What Constitutes a Sustainable Wild Fishery?

June 1, 2012 in Seafood For Thought

Not All Fishing Gear is Sustainable

The following opinion is in response to the recent New York Times article, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/24/opinion/eat-your-hake-and-have-it-too.html.

Sustainable wild fisheries are the result of healthful fish, responsible exploitation, self-sustaining cycles of new harvesters replacing the oldest harvesters,  and a consistent range of abundant biomass within the fishery food-chain.  In the minds of wild seafood aficionados like myself, sustainable fisheries are the dream that contrasts our present reality.  Fisheries continue to buckle under the consolidation of more efficient gear and larger scale harvesters, the average age of fisherman continues to rise as less men and women find economic security in serving their fellow fish consumers by catching wild fish, governments continue to subsidize factory fishing operations inspite of its consequences, fishery managers remain unable to effectively protect the biomass of fish on the lowest rungs of our fishery food-chain assuring the inevitable collapse of more valuable species that exist higher up the food-chain, and  many people remain uncertain about the healthfulness and presence of heavy metals in their wild fish and shellfish.

Now that there is no misunderstanding about what constitutes a sustainable fishery, we can discuss how to encourage behaviors that will take us closer to our goal, if in fact sustainability is the goal.  To that point, all states that have a commercially exploited fishery within their jurisdiction either have a constitutional amendment that includes the protection of its fisheries for the benefit of long term sustainable yield or not.  Therefore, the most “apparent conservation benefits from the refusal of consumers to buy [those] over-fished species” is the continued focus on wild fisheries, furthermore perhaps opportunities may increase for new educated minds to become involved in the ongoing effort to make the dream of sustainable fisheries come true.

Additionally, otter trawl fishing gear produces the majority of haddock [in Maine], while the remainder of the catch is taken with [less efficient] longlines or gillnets.  Assuming that since fisheries had never before experienced the current threat of overfishing until the use of trawl fishing gear became widespread, it could be that consumers refusal to to buy fish that is almost exclusively harvested by trawlers or that is not traceable to its harvesters is an act of protest against trawling.

To conclude, a better goal for NOAA might be to rebuild over-fished species back to levels that had existed prior to overfishing.  Using inconcise language such as ‘healthy’ to describe populations of over-fished species is no less useful than labeling an entire species as “Red Listed”.   Otolith applauds the state of Alaska for constitutionally protecting its fisheries.  After establishing a brand that identifies fish harvested against all odds and in consideration of the greatest efforts to date toward the goal of achieving sustainable fisheries, I would welcome the opportunity to do more for our fisheries.    Someday there can be far fewer trawlers and more skilled fishermen, much less plastic in our oceans and more fish surviving to maturity, more laws to protect our renewable fishery resources and the healthfulness of our fish, and less regulations that serve only to increase the challenges to sustainable harvesters.

“I have a Dream”, Dr. Martin Luther King; me too.