Selected tags: Monterey Bay Aquarium

From ‘Avoid’ to ‘Enjoy’: West Coast Groundfish Completes Sustainability Sweep

© Monterey Bay Aquarium

© Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, considered by many to be the ultimate arbiter of sustainability for the U.S. seafood market, has released five new reports on the West Coast groundfish fishery. In these new assessments they concluded that almost 40 types of rockfish, sole and other fish species – representing virtually all groundfish caught on the West Coast – are now considered sustainable seafood choices.

This announcement comes on the heels of another sustainability milestone for this fishery. Just two months ago, a large portion of the same fishery was also certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

This was not always the case. The fishery was declared a federal disaster in 2000. After years of overfishing and declining productivity, the fishing industry began working with Environmental Defense Fund experts and federal regulators to design a new management system that better aligned the interests of fishermen and fish populations.

In 2011 the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) instituted a ‘catch share’ program. At the same time, this new management plan established a system of 100% catch monitoring, which ensured that every fish that came over the rail was accounted for.

This combination spurred an innovation boom within the trawl fishery, which is reducing its footprint, staying out of sensitive areas, testing new gear, and exchanging bycatch information in real time to avoid overfished and depleted species. As a result, approximately 70% of West Coast flounder and sole, and 60% of rockfish now qualify as a Seafood Watch ‘Best Choice’. Specifically:

  • All trawl-caught rockfish assessed have been upgraded to either “Good Alternative” or “Best Choice”
  • Dover sole, English sole and Pacific sanddabs have been upgraded to “Best Choice”
  • Spiny dogfish, a species of shark, has been upgraded to “Best Choice”
  • Pacific grenadier has been upgraded from “Avoid” to “Good Alternative”

Seafood Watch called it, “the most dramatic turnaround to date, and reflects significant improvements in federal fishery management to restore these economically important fisheries in California, Oregon and Washington”.

In the words of Brad Pettinger, lifelong fisherman and director of the Oregon Trawl Commission, “Fifteen years ago they wrote the obituary for this fishery. Ten years ago we started working on a rationalized management plan, and three years ago we put it in place. That was the watershed moment, and now we’re demonstrating that we can be good stewards of an amazing public resource. We could not be happier or more proud.”

So once again, kudos to the hardworking fishermen and fishery managers that committed to this process from day one. This is just one more step in an amazing journey, and one that EDF is proud to be a part of. We hope and expect that this new show of support from Seafood Watch translates into better market opportunities for West Coast groundfish, and a rightful place within the world of sustainable seafood.

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I’ll Have the Gulf Red Snapper, Please

Fresh Red Snapper

Gulf Red Snapper

[This was originally posted in National Geographic's Ocean Views Blog]

I’m thrilled to report that Gulf of Mexico red snapper got a little less “red” today. That’s because our partners at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program – the most well-known sustainable seafood program in the United States – announced that they’ve removed the commercial fishery for Gulf of Mexico red snapper from their ‘Avoid’ list and awarded them a new ‘Good Alternative’ rating.

While there are still improvements to be made in this fishery, let’s take a minute to appreciate how much progress has been made in the last few years. Gulf of Mexico red snapper used to be a poster child for unsafe, wasteful fishing. In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s the fishery was ruled by derby seasons where fishermen raced to catch as much fish as possible a few days every month. This had tremendous consequences for both fish and fishermen, as quality and profitability suffered and the red snapper population dwindled.

Fortunately, fishermen, managers and conservationists finally recognized the severity of the problem and decided to get the fishery back on track. In 2007, an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program, coupled with a scientifically set catch limit, was implemented that put Gulf red snapper on the road to recovery. Since then, rebuilding red snapper populations have supported a 70% increase in fishing quotas, waste of marketable fish has declined by about 50%, and fishermen earn 33% more per pound of fish landed. Commercial fishing seasons now last the full year, and the sector demonstrates strong compliance with its catch limit. These same fishermen even pioneered an innovative new traceability program after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that tracks every single fish back to the boat that caught it.

Unfortunately the recreational portion of the fishery (which shares the Gulf red snapper quota about evenly with commercial fishermen) remains saddled with outdated management that leads to blown catch limits year after year. That’s not because recreational fishermen aren’t responsible or don’t care about sustainability. It’s that the recreational management program is utterly failing. The system punishes everyone because it is based on antiquated rules and poor monitoring. To make sure recovery doesn’t backslide, new technologies for faster and better data collection, more accurate fish counting and incentives for conservation are badly needed.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the body charged with managing the fishery, has many different proposals in front of them to solve the problems facing the recreational fishery.  Some of them show promise and some of them could very well make things worse. In the coming months they will be making some important decisions that will impact everyone that depends on the red snapper fishery.  The bottom line is that recreational fishermen need a solution that can work for them on the water while providing the necessary incentives and accountability to ensure long-term sustainability for the fishery – so that being on the “red list” will remain a distant memory.

Join me in celebrating the fact that the sustainability stigma is no longer affixed to the Gulf commercial red snapper fishery. Not only does today’s news acknowledge the fishery’s transition to better management; it means that conservation-minded commercial Gulf red snapper fishermen now have access to better market opportunities through major buyers that have made commitments to sustainable seafood. So the next time you see this delicious fish in the market or on a menu, enjoy it with the knowledge that you’re making a good choice for both the ocean and the small family-owned fishing businesses that rely on it.

For more fish musings, please follow me on Twitter @hawaiifitz

Tim Fitzgerald is a marine scientist and senior policy specialist with Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program. Tim directs EDF’s sustainable seafood program, and specializes in the intersection of environmental sustainability and public health. He is also a senior member of EDF’s National Policy team, advocating for more sustainable federal fisheries management policies.

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The New Sardine: Thinking Outside the Can

By Kristen Honey, EDF Lorry Lokey Fellow 

Are sardines making a sustainable and sumptuous comeback? The Washington Post attempted to address this very question yesterday in a provocative article about the self-proclaimed “Sardinistas.”  According to this group of nutritionists, environmentalists and foodie revolutionaries, the answer is a resounding “yes!”  Sardine advocates and cutting-edge green chefs like Dean Gold and David Myers are bringing this smelly canned food out of the cob-webbed cabinet corner and back into the kitchen in innovative new ways. Or they are trying to, at least.

Just recently, I had the privilege of attending a private luncheon with the Sardinistas at filmmaker Mark Shelley’s Sea Studios Foundation on Monterey’s Cannery Row.  The purpose of this luncheon was to highlight their recent efforts to promote sardines as a delicious and sustainable seafood choice.   What struck me was their point that while Americans love eating tuna and other steak-like fish, we need to eat fish farther down the food chain (like sardines) to help alleviate pressure at the top. 

After talking shop, we had the chance to eat delectable canned, frozen and fresh sardine dishes by renowned chef Alton Brown of The Food Network!  If you don’t take my word for how tasty these creatures can be, try out for yourself these sardine-centric recipes for Sarde Arrosto (Griddle Roasted Sardines), Stuffed Sardines and Vuido (widowed potatoes).

Mike Sutton (Director of Monterey Bay AquariumI was pleased that the group tied in the tastings with a bit of history, noting that Cannery Row was once considered the sardine Mecca of the U.S. in the late 1930s. However, by the 1950s the sardine population was severely depleted due to poor fishery management that didn’t take into account natural ocean cycles. 

The tides have changed (no oceans pun intended) for these cute little guys and today EDF’s Seafood Selector rates Pacific sardines as an “eco-best fish.”  Their re-emergence was no accident; the sardine fishery is now managed in a sustainable way, with fishing quotas at one-tenth of what they were during the 1930s.  So listen to your curious, daring taste-buds and eat some sardines for a change – not only do all those omega-3 fatty acids improve your health, but you are doing a service to the planet.

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