Author Archives: Jake Kritzer

Eating with the Ecosystem: Gulf of Maine

Earlier this year, I wrote about an event held in my neighborhood by Eating with the Ecosystem, a new initiative that aims to educate seafood lovers about the environmental and culinary benefits of a diverse palate that incorporates a wide range of sustainable seafood choices.  After that dinner, I sat down with Sarah Schumann, the creator of Eating with the Ecosystem, to learn more about how her project emerged.

Sarah’s work is driven by a diverse and fascinating array of interests and experiences.  Her love of commercial fishing was born more than a decade ago when she lived on the coast of Chile and got to know the small-scale coastal fisheries of that seafaring nation.  Chile has enjoyed success in implementing cooperative and area-based allocation systems, which today are serving as a model for work being done by EDF, Rare and the University of California at Santa Barbara through the Fish Forever partnership.

After returning to Rhode Island inspired by her Chilean experience, Sarah worked as a deckhand on lobster boats and then a fluke gillnet boat, before branching out on her own.  Today, she is a working commercial fisherman, harvesting conch, oysters, razor clams and quahogs in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay from a 12’ skiff or even while paddling a canoe!

As much as Sarah loves “the Ocean State,” she confesses a need to escape the summertime madness of its coastal waters in the summertime.  True to her love of commercial fishing, she spends her summers in Alaska, another global bright spot of successful fisheries management, to work in a salmon cannery and experience the unique culture and camaraderie of the Alaskan fishing industry.  Sarah’s time there has made her active in the ongoing effort to protect Alaska’s marine ecosystems from the proposed Pebble Mine project.

Eating with the Ecosystem was born out of Sarah’s experience selling her catch at local farmer’s markets.  She found that too many people looking for local foods were only familiar with the more high-profile local species, too many of which have suffered from overfishing.  But people were not aware that there are many lesser known species whose populations are healthier, and she wanted to get that message out.

During our conversation, Sarah asked if I’d be interested in joining my friend Jeffrey Pierce as the guest speakers at an event she held earlier this month.  Like Sarah, Jeff is a commercial fisherman who harvests sea-run herring, a.k.a. ‘alewives’, on a tributary of the Eastern River in Dresden Mills, Maine.  Jeff is also the Executive Director and Founder of the Alewife Harvesters of Maine, an industry organization whose Board of Directors I joined in 2010.  Alewives are one of my favorite fishes, and one on which EDF has done a wide variety of work.  Sadly, in too many places, alewife populations are suffering, and the species was recently proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act.  The petition was ultimately denied, but not without some very serious concerns being raised about the future of these vital links in the aquatic food web.

Fortunately, Maine has enjoyed more success with alewife management than any other state, and many of its river fisheries have remained open while most others along the eastern seaboard have closed.  Jeff brought some of his sustainably harvested alewives from Maine to Boston for the dinner, which was held at the renowned Lumiere restaurant.  Lumiere is owned by Chef Michael Leviton, head of the Chef’s Collaborative.  Michael is a kindred spirit of Sarah’s in his commitment to inspiring diners to sample more of the sea’s bounty, thereby spreading harvest pressure more evenly and reducing impacts on overfished species.  In addition to the Eating with the Ecosystem event, Michael has hosted a ‘trash fish’ dinner at his Area Four restaurant in Cambridge to convey a similar message.

Michael began our dinner with Jeffrey’s alewives, fired crispy and accompanied by a pickled ramp remoulade.  That was followed by a chilled monkfish liver torchon and then white hake accompanied by roasted root vegetable, spiced yogurt and harissa vinaigrette.  The meal delectable, to say the least, and I, for one, can’t wait until the next Eating with the Ecosystem event to sample more creations using New England’s abundant seafood.  With people like Sarah, Jeffrey and Michael hard at work, I’m confident New England’s fishing future will continue to provide such fresh, healthy and tasty offerings.

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Eating with the Ecosystem: Georges Bank


Eating with the EcosystemEating with the Ecosystem is a project created to help consumers learn about the marine waters from which New England seafood is harvested.  The project aims to build upon related efforts focused on sustainable seafood and eating local by urging consumers to think about the suite of species living together in a given place, and their ecological interactions and fluctuations in abundance.  In other words, their mission is to grow awareness of individual species to awareness of the entire ecosystem.

One important message of Eating with the Ecosystem is that consumers should focus on healthy stocks so that we benefit from abundance while allowing other resources to recover.  Today, this means being willing to try species that are unfamiliar to many seafood lovers.  As we work to recover well-known species like cod and flounder, species such as dogfish, skates, hake, pollock and redfish present opportunities to offset lost revenue for fishermen, and for diners to try some new tastes.  Fortunately, based on the results of a poll conducted collaboratively by EDF and the Center for Marketing Research at UMass-Dartmouth, consumers seem willing to give those species a chance.

In the spirit of the “trash fish” dinner recently sponsored by the Chef’s Collaborative, Eating with the Ecosystem is hosting a series of dinners across New England to showcase underappreciated seafood and the ecosystems from which it comes. I was fortunate to attend their most recent event highlighting the Georges Bank ecosystem, which was held at one of my favorite restaurants: Ten Tables, located right in my own neighborhood, Boston’s Jamaica Plain.

The menu began with a simple sea scallop ceviche served with Hakurei turnip, green apple and arugula.  As the basis of the most valuable fishery in the United States, sea scallops are far from unknown in the market!  But the stock is abundant, and no meal focused on the Georges Bank would be complete without scallops on the menu.

Next up was a house cured hake brandade, served alongside pickles and mini toasts.  There are actually three different species of hake found on Georges Bank: white, red and silver.  An interesting ecological linkage between the first course and the second is that juvenile red hake take shelter inside adult sea scallops after beginning their lives as tiny larvae drifting among the plankton and then settling to the seafloor. Read More »

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Building Resilient New England Fisheries in the Face of Climate Change

Photo Credit: Natacha Hardy.
Alex Koeberle and Scituate Fisherman Frank Mirarchi

By: Alex Koeberle and Jake Kritzer

Following the hottest summer ever on record, the Atlantic coast was rocked recently by super storm Sandy, both stark reminders that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.  This year had already seen effects of climate change take on a more prominent place in marine conservation debates.  In July, renowned Australian ecologist Dr. Roger Bradbury argued that the fate of coral reefs is essentially sealed due to warming waters, rising seas, acidification and extreme weather (although other prominent voices were quick to counter such doomsday predictions).  Closer to home, an effort to restore Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River was ended after nearly a half-century, in part because changing ocean currents, temperature regimes and plankton production might be impairing the ability of salmon to survive at sea and migrate back to spawn.

It is not only salmon that are contending with effects of climate change in New England.  The region is seeing sea levels rising faster than many other places around the globe, which threatens to drown salt marshes already struggling with excessive nutrient loads.  Marshes help buffer coastal areas against storm surge, and provide vital nursery and feeding grounds for many important fish species.  Ocean waters are not only rising but warming as well, one consequence of which has been a dramatic shift in the distribution of cod north of the primary fishing grounds in the western Gulf of Maine.  Also, rainfall patterns are becoming increasingly erratic, altering salinity profiles and plankton production, which hampers productivity of species throughout the food web. Read More »

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MPAtlas Provides New Tool to Learn about Marine Protected Areas

The Marine Conservation Institute, in partnership with the Waitt Foundation, has developed an online digital atlas that assembles information on marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world. This is a valuable tool that provides the ability to explore sites and characteristics of existing and proposed MPAs. When developed with careful consideration of fishing communities, MPAs have the potential to accelerate recovery of fish populations, increase ecosystem resilience and provide data for stock assessments and catch limit setting.  Learning about existing MPAs and their impacts can help inform the design and implementation of future sites, and hopefully improve the ability of MPAs to provide direct ecosystem and fishery benefits.

MPA Atlas

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Charting a Course for Gulf of Maine Cod: Part II

Atlantic cod

Atlantic Cod; Photo Credit: NOAA

Yesterday, I recounted the recent history of assessments of the Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod stock that has led to a looming crisis for many New England fishermen, and the management response underway in the form of emergency action.  Today, I discuss two major goals that will most effectively use the time before us to potentially change our understanding of cod status, and avoid or minimize socio-economic hardship.

Expand our scientific perspective
Before the 2011 assessment had even been reviewed, a barrage of criticisms began to be levied.  To be sure, many decisions made during the assessment could have gone a different direction, including data to include or exclude, values for key parameters, and determination of reference points.  Renowned ecologist E.O. Wilson once observed that ecology is far more complex than physics, and fisheries science is a close cousin of ecology.  There are few universal rules for how to assess fish stocks, and the discipline relies heavily on experience, professional judgment, vigorous debate, peer review, and trial and error.  The GOM cod assessment was not lacking in any of those elements.  In my view, the assessment was done right, was done well, and should be commended for achieving what it set out to do.  Gerrymandering the assessment to get a more favorable outcome is both bad practice and bad policy. Read More »

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Charting a Course for Gulf of Maine Cod: Part I

Atlantic cod

Atlantic Cod; Photo Credit: NOAA

By now, most people concerned with fisheries management in New England, and in fact many others across the country, are aware of the difficult situation unfolding around the Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod stock.  For those who are not, a stock assessment completed late in 2011 drastically altered our perception of the stock from the last assessment completed in 2008, and suggests that the resource is in much worse shape than we previously thought.

Actually, in many ways the 2011 assessment tells a story similar to the 2008 assessment:  Biomass reached all-time lows during the 1990s, but then approximately doubled by 2001.  Thereafter, biomass dipped again to another low point in the mid-2000s, before climbing again toward the end of the 2000s.

The critical difference between the two assessments lies in the pace of rebuilding since the recent low in the mid-2000s.  The 2008 assessment suggested that the population was increasing extremely rapidly, with growth of more than 200% from 2005 to 2007.   In doing so, it had exceeded the overfishing threshold, and was well on its way toward the rebuilding target biomass that would produce the maximum sustainable yield on a continuing basis. Read More »

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Head to Tailfin: Sustainable, Locally-caught Seafood

Recently, I had the pleasure of joining the “Head to Tailfin” dinner organized by Slow Food Boston at Boston’s 606 Congress restaurant.  The seven-course menu paired original seafood creations crafted by Executive Chef Rich Garcia, a former chef in the U.S. Marine Corps who has been featured in the culinary magazine Star Chefs, with Spanish wines selected by sommelier Jack Guinan.  And, wow, was the meal something special!

Chef Garcia’s aim was to show how the whole animal can be used, from the head all the way to the tailfin.  Consistent with the slow food philosophy, Rich used locally caught seafood, with one exception: The fifth course featured shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico as a show of support for the region’s seafood industry recovering from the detrimental ecological and public perception effects of the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Among the dishes of New England origin, my favorite was a toss-up between deep-fried cod tongue and cheeks, and sous vide long fin squid with Hill Farms pork belly.  The cod was caught under the sector management system implemented in the New England groundfish fishery last year, one of the newest catch share systems in the nation.  The squid was caught by the same fishermen who created and operate Rhode Island’s fluke sector out of Point Judith.  Diners were able to learn which captain caught their squid, and where and when it was caught, using QR codes provided during the meal as part of the new “Trace and Trust” program.   Read More »

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New Report Provides A Roadmap for Improving Fisheries Management in New England

As the New England Fishery Management Council completes its spring meeting today, Council members, staff and other stakeholders will head back to their homes and offices thinking about implementation of the various decisions made during the three-day meeting.

Thanks to a new report released during the Council meeting, the fisheries community in New England will also be thinking about broader steps needed to improve the overall effectiveness of our fisheries management system. The study behind the report was led by Preston Pate, a former member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and former Director of the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, who presented its findings to the Council alongside Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, Eric Schwaab.

A review of the management system was requested by Council chair John Pappalardo, a Chatham fisherman and CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association, and subsequently initiated by NMFS. Strong support for both the spirit and recommendations of the report was expressed by Mr. Pappalardo and the Council, as well as Mr. Schwaab and NOAA Fisheries.

Media outlets across New England quickly covered the findings and recommendations in the report, with clear and perhaps unsurprising emphasis on the negative outcomes. And that emphasis is warranted, for although the report notes a considerable number of positive attributes of the region’s management system, the effectiveness of those elements is compromised by the negatives.

But let’s pause and take pride in what is working well in New England, and then get down to business of fixing what is not working well.

In fact, several of the positives identified in the report represent steps already underway toward rectifying the negatives. For example, the important role that managers of the 17 groundfish harvest cooperatives, i.e., “sectors”, are playing in improving collaboration and communication with management was highlighted as an encouraging recent development. This is a development that is making progress toward rectifying one of the major areas needing improvement within NMFS: better outreach and communication with industry. We should think creatively about how to make sector managers more effective in filling that role, and support them in doing so.

The report also identified cooperative research as a positive attribute of the regional management system that provides important information for management, and improves relationships among industry members, scientists and managers. Therefore, increasing cooperative research opportunities is another important strategy for improving the communication and trust deficiencies identified in the report.

The report also highlighted two challenges faced by fisheries management in New England more so than any region in the U.S.: Geography and history. The area under the jurisdiction of the New England Council has relatively high population density, and consequently high anthropogenic impacts, in the coastal region. Also, although the region is comparatively small, it includes four coastal states, so that the number of political and regulatory jurisdictions involved are relatively high compared to other regions.

Our history not only makes successful fisheries management in New England more challenging, but in some ways more important. The fishing traditions in New England are key components of our regional identity and our national heritage. Successes in the region are therefore especially symbolic nationally, and following the roadmap requested by Mr. Pappalardo, made possible by Mr. Schwaab, and delivered by Mr. Pate can help ensure greater success toward recovering and strengthening our invaluable fishing heritage moving forward.

Jake Kritzer is EDF’s Senior Marine Scientist for the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions.  He is also Vice-Chair of the New England Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee, among other advisory appointments.

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