Thank you to all of you who came out yesterday on a cold Super Bowl Sunday for our screening of The End of the Line! The panel was a lively one, with great questions from the audience and the introduction of lots of things to think about. The 'fish issue' as it could be called, is a complex beast (no pun intended) and so the best we can do is arm ourselves with the most knowledge we can & forge ahead -- oh, and be sure to tell everyone you know to do the same!
First off, a huge thank you to our wonderful panelists:
Niaz Dorry from NAMA (Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance)
Jason Clermont of the NE Aquarium Conservation Dep't
Here is a list of Community Supported Fisheries in the area. The one that I know for certain that delivers into the metro Boston area is Cape Ann Fresh Catch. Does anyone know of others?
Looking for the easiest list of what to eat or not eat? Try the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program. The site also includes downloadable cards you can leave at shops or restaurants saying either "Thanks for using sustainable seafood" or "Become Aware" both have a concise message and a link to more info.
There was much discussion about 'turning back the clock' in regards to our fishing methods. We have become too efficient at 'hunting' fish, and the scale has become far too large to be sustainable. There is an obvious cross-reference to be made to the scale of the farming in our country, both of produce and of meat. Niaz says that the larger scale fishing, which she refers to as 'aquabusiness,' is not truly fishing - it's more like 'extracting seafood,' a slaughter level of fishing. More information about the difference can be found on NAMA's Green Jobs on the Blue Ocean document.
The fisherman's perspective on the problems is a piece that Niaz asked me specifically to mention. Excerpted here is her email:
Someone asked the question about strategies and I only focused on one aspect, which was the policy makers. From a fishermen's perspective, our strategy is to change the dynamics for them enough so they don't have to catch more fish to make a living. That's why the CSFs and
alternative marketing is such a critical part of our work. It allows fishermen who are working to do the right thing to be rewarded for their actions. I don't think people know how little of the profits from fishing make it down to the actual fishermen. It's very much like what has happened with farmers. It also takes us to the fairness aspect of your work at Slow Food. For example, until the CSFs took hold fishermen were getting paid .30c a pound for the wild, local
shrimp. This past summer and fall the boat price of haddock was under $1/pound. When was the last time the consumers paid $1/pound for haddock? The rest of the price that is added on never makes it down to the fishermen - or the producer if we want to talk about it in terms the food activists are familiar with. So what if the fishermen were given a fair price for whatever they caught? The .50c/pound fish that now is thrown over board dead because it has no value to them but to take up precious cargo space that the $2 or $3 or higher/pound fish would take is now brought to shore because the CSF model gives them a fair price for whatever they catch. This reduces their incentive to throw fish overboard, to "high grade" which is a term used for keeping only marketable fish, and to fish harder in order to make ends meet.
This is very similar to the issues facing family farmers - particularly dairy farmers - who are not getting a fair price because agribusiness has dominated the market with cheap production processes that give us cheap dairy at huge ecological and economic costs. We are losing family dairy farmers at a rapid pace as a result.
Aquabusiness dominates the fish market and community based fishermen either have to fish harder or simply pack their bags and meet the same fate as the family farmers when in fact the overall ecological footprint of the community based fishermen and family farmers are much much smaller than their industrial equivalent.
Marine Stewardship Council are the people who certify fisheries, allowing the products to carry their seal of approval (and be sold in places such as Walmart).
Niaz brought up scientist Dr. Daniel Pauly, who appears in the film. He has done studies breaking down the impacts of different sizes of fishing fleets (small medium & large) on different factors, and found that in all categories, whether it be environmental or social, small & medium size always did the best. There was just recently a piece in the Atlantic that included Dr. Pauly's thoughts on the MSC certification - you can read it here.
Another research-related name that was raised Ted Ames, who has done work studying the cod populations in our area. He was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2005 for his work.
Curious about fishing quotas and the issues surrounding them? The 'old' type, Individual Transfer Quotas, were put in place to supposedly ease the burden of overfishing. It seems that they didn't help, merely reducing the NUMBER of boats in the water but not the CAPACITY of these boats. They tended to favor the bigger companies and leave out the small local fisherman. The 'new' version called Catch Shares or 'quota shares' doesn't seem to be a better solution, according to Niaz and this story from the Gloucester Times.
So on a day to day basis, what do we do? Everyone agrees, most important of all, ask questions about the fish you encounter - at the grocery store, in restaurants and at your local fishmonger. Jacqueline mentioned the 'Five Point Action Plan' by Lia Huber, which you can read about in her 2008 Teach a Man to Fish Roundup (it's at the bottom). Niaz says that for whatever you eat, you should know 'the who, the how, the where, the what and the why.' From her organization, NAMA these are the recommendations:
Buy from a local fisherman when possible.
Get involved in a Community Supported Fishery (CSF).
What if you don't live near the coast? We highly recommend that you stick with eating what's available to you locally as much as possible. If you need to have seafood, look at the rest of our suggestions below and stick with what has had to travel the shortest distance to get to your table.
Eat fish that looks like fish!
Avoid fake or imitation seafood products. Majority of fake seafood products comes from factory style fishing operations. Alaska Pollock is probably the number one fish that is on the market today in just about every form and shape. It's turned into surimi to make fake lobster or crab or some other fake seafood product.
Eat wild seafood whenever possible.
Ask how, where, and when your fish was caught. Doing so lets your seafood dealer or waiter or chef know you care about their buying choices. If whoever is selling or serving you the fish doesn't have the answers, or the answers you wanted, don't buy or order it.
While we need to be supporting local fisherman and those that practice smart & sustainable fishing, we also need to understand the role that farm-raised fish will be playing moving forward. Jason emailed me with these thoughts:
Farm-raised shellfish are widely available around the area and because shellfish are filter feeders, they can actually improve water quality in places where the farming takes place (I am pretty sure the oysters planted by the Massachusetts Oyster Project are farm-raised). There are also a number of fish species raised in aquaculture operations, particularly in the US (e.g., catfish, trout, hybrid striped bass) that are done in an environmentally responsible manner and strictly regulated. It’s important that aquaculture doesn’t get painted with this broad brush because, it’s contribution to the worldwide food supply is becoming more and more substantial (I believe the FAO is estimating that in 2009 aquatic food sources produced from aquaculture actually surpassed wild-capture production worldwide for the first time). As in wild-capture fisheries, it’s important that people advocate and support responsible aquaculture over irresponsible practices.
Again, it is our responsibility as individual consumers to ask questions and demand transparency in the seafood industry, just as we are asking for it in our other food systems.
Recent articles to peruse for even more information:
Nov 2009 Boston Phoenix article by Mike Miliard: We're Killing our Seas
Dec 2009 Boston Globe article by Elizabeth Cooney: Fishing for Facts
Winter 2010 Edible Boston article by Clare Leschin-Hoar: The Dish on Fish
Jan 2010 New York Times Magazine article by Christine Muhlke: Catch Me if You Can
Jan/Feb 2010 Eating Well piece by Lisa Gosselin: If You Love this Fish, Save It!
I know there was so much more, but this is what I've got. Thanks again to the panelists and the audience for a highly educational afternoon!
p.s. As of a Feb 3rd article in the New York Times, it looks like the EU is leaning toward a ban on bluefin tuna! Check it out here.