Selected tags: Seafood

Lawsuits and lasting solutions for the Gulf’s red snapper fishery

For media inquiries please contact:

Matt Smelser, msmelser@edf.org, (512) 731-3023

EDF takes another step today in our decades-long pursuit of vibrant, productive fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico when we file an amicus brief in an ongoing lawsuit over the red snapper fishery. The issue at hand is whether NOAA violated federal law in its management of the recreational sector, allowing significant overharvesting and in so doing potentially jeopardizing one of the nation’s biggest success stories in fisheries recovery. It’s always unfortunate when fisheries challenges end up in the courtroom. In this instance, we hope that there’ll be a simultaneous uptake of tangible solutions that can improve recreational fishing opportunity while ensuring continued growth and recovery of the red snapper population. The good news is that Gulf fishermen, just as they have in the past, are coming forward with creative management ideas that we need for long-term success. We should build on that to forge greater cooperation and ensure everyone can share in the benefits of a thriving red snapper fishery.

In many ways the story of Gulf red snapper in recent years is one of remarkable accomplishment. Bold leadership from fishermen—and decisive action by the Gulf Fishery Management Council—put the depleted red snapper fishery on the path to recovery. Failed commercial fishery management was fixed with a catch share program that imposed individual accountability, reduced waste, and helped end chronic overfishing. This new system has yielded remarkable dividends, allowing the safe catch for both the recreational and commercial sectors to more than double since 2008. This increase has helped reinvigorate coastal seafood businesses and brought more fresh local seafood to dinner tables across the Gulf and beyond. EDF is proud to have contributed to this success.

But there’s still a fundamental problem: profound failure in recreational management is denying anglers the benefits they should be enjoying, while threatening to turn back the clock on sustainability. Although the recreational allocation has remained constant at 49 percent of the fishery, the growing Gulf red snapper “pie” is not leading to enhanced recreational fishing opportunities. On the contrary, both individual anglers and charter boat captains face growing frustration. Catch is still controlled by season and bag limits (in addition to size limits), which have shrunk dramatically. The 2013 recreational season was just 42 days.

2013 recreational landings landings based on preliminary data

Note: 2013 recreational landings are projected

This same failed recreational management system threatens to undermine recovery of the red snapper population. Through no fault of Gulf anglers who play by the rules, red snapper have been overharvested in the recreational fishery in six of the last seven years, often by significant margins. Preliminary data suggests that in 2013 recreational catch exceeded its quota by close to 100 percent. Recovery of red snapper is too fragile to tolerate a system that routinely breaches science-based limits. A new benchmark assessment released last year showed that while we’ve made progress, red snapper are still overfished and we’ve had weaker than usual recruitment in recent years. It is clear that failed recreational management is not only limiting recreational opportunities, it could endanger the long-term health of the fishery.

We call for fresh thinking about how management in the recreational red snapper fishery can be improved. That thinking can help move us towards a recreational fishery with both year-round fishing opportunities for Gulf anglers and long-term sustainability. Decision-makers must consider new management solutions, reduce tensions and foster greater collaboration among fishing sectors.

The good news is that fishermen are generating new ideas. Recreational participants have asked for solutions that will allow seasons to be longer and more flexible.

In the charter boat sector, many believe that the successful commercial management program could offer charter captains a model for how to lengthen their seasons and increase revenues. Meanwhile, Gulf anglers have previously proposed a tagging program similar to those used for hunting large game. Tags could be managed at the state or local level, by state wildlife agencies or local fishing clubs.

Rather than let this litigation drag on, the Gulf Fishery Management Council should use its meeting next month to urgently consider such new management approaches. And instead of digging in on opposing sides, stakeholders should come together to forge lasting solutions. We will be offering more ideas on such approaches in the months ahead. We all have a shared interest in a healthy Gulf and vibrant red snapper fishery. Bold and creative reform can offer win-win solutions that enhance recreational opportunities while conserving red snapper—for today’s anglers and for generations to come.

Posted in Gulf of Mexico, Policy| Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Catch Shares: Harvesting Sustainable Catches

Originally published on November 18, 2013 on the Oceans Health Index Website


Introduction

Written by Steven Katona, Managing Director, Ocean Health Index

Maximizing sustainable food production from the ocean by harvest of wild fish stocks and production of farmed species by mariculture is one of the 10 goals evaluated by the Ocean Health Index, and it is especially closely watched because it is so critical for the future.

Three billion people out of today’s world population of 7.1 billion people depend on seafood for their daily protein and fish contribute a greater proportion of protein to the average diet than poultry.  A single serving of fish or shellfish (150 g) provides 60% of a person’s daily protein requirement, but the ocean’s continued ability to meet that need is in doubt.  Our population is rising steadily and will reach about 8 billion by 2024 and 9 billion by 2040, but the annual catch from wild ocean fisheries has stayed at about 80 million metric tons since about 1990 despite increased effort.  The reason is that too many stocks are overfished and too much productivity is sacrificed as bycatch, illegal and unregulated catch and as a result of habitat loss caused by destructive fishing practices.

Yet without increased wild harvest and augmented mariculture production, the risk of malnutrition will increase for hundreds of millions of people, because the catch will have to be shared by so many more mouths.

Why would we expect fish landings to increase in the future if they haven’t done so since 1990? Clearly with business as usual, they won’t, but a number of new strategies and tools offer hope.  Catch shares is one of them.  We’re pleased to welcome Kate Bonzon, Director of Environmental Defenses Fund’s Catch Share Design Center, to explain how catch shares are working worldwide and highlight some of their benefits.

Even though catch shares have been used in a diversity of fisheries around the world, the idea of catch shares is new in many places, and it has occasioned some misunderstanding and subsequent debate around the best way to manage fisheries.  However, catch shares give a powerful incentive and opportunity for fishers to care for their fish stocks, thereby improving the consistency, sustainability and possibly magnitude of their catches, while also improving their livelihoods.

More sustainable fishing will not only help fishers and fish stocks, but it will also improve scores on many of the other goals evaluated by the Ocean Health Index.  Of course there are trade-offs between the goals, but meeting the goals for sustainability embodied within each goal will improve the ocean’s ability to sustainably deliver a range of benefits to people now and in the future.  What’s more, the ocean’s animals, plants and habitats will benefit too.

Catch Shares: Harvesting Sustainable Catches

Fish were once thought to be so abundant that we could take our fill and never deplete them; that wild fisheries were inexhaustible and would always be plentiful. But over the past few decades, there is growing recognition that most of the world's wild fisheries are in trouble and fishing has had a tremendous impact. Globally, nearly two-thirds of wild fisheries are overfished, leaving depleted fish stocks and low yields. New evidence on fisheries with little data, which account for 80% of the global catch, is especially concerning. Once thought to be relatively stable, many of these fisheries are, in fact, overfished and facing collapse. Depletion of this resource threatens not only ocean health but the billions of people who depend on fish for food and jobs.

The good news is fisheries are a renewable resource. And the key to sustainably managing them is ensuring there are enough fish left in the ocean to produce future generations. Future fish generations will keep fresh and sustainable seafood on the plates of the billions of people around the world who rely on them for protein, and wages in the pockets of millions of fishing industry workers who depend on them to support their livelihoods.

And there is more good news. There are effective fishery management programs-called catch shares-that are doing all of the above. As of 2013, about 200 catch shares programs are  managing more than 500 different species in 40 countries. Very much like dividing a pizza or pie, catch shares give a secure fishing area or privilege to catch a share of a fishery’s total allowable catch to an individual or group. And with this privilege, fishing participants are expected to fish within their allotted amount.

The success of catch shares lies in the ability to give fishermen a long-term stake in the fishery and tie their current behavior to future environmental outcomes. Specifically, catch shares align fishermen’s incentives through a system of rights, responsibilities and rewards. By giving fishermen the privilege or right to a secure area or share of the catch, fishermen also retain the responsibility to conserve fish stocks and marine ecosystems and are subsequently rewarded by stable and healthy fish populations. Importantly, catch shares are flexible and can be custom designed to meet the different characteristics and goals of diverse fisheries.  Some catch share programs have allocated shares to groups—often called Cooperative catch shares—and others have allocated shares to individuals—often called Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs) or Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs).  Area-based catch shares, often called Territorial Use Rights for Fishing, or TURFs, allocate secure, exclusive areas to fishermen. And within these differing types of catch shares are a multitude of design features that have, and can, be used to meet different goals. Around the world, from small artisanal fisheries to large commercial fishing operations, well-designed catch share programs are increasing compliance with catch limits, reducing the amount of bycatch and discarded fish, increasing revenues and reducing fishing expenses, proving that good yields can indeed happen sustainably. A 2011 study of 345 fish stocks around the world found that those managed with catch shares had significantly lower cases of overexploitation when compared to conventional management practices. And another study found that the implementation of these systems “halts, and even reverses—widespread fishery collapse.” This positive trend is largely driven by catch shares ability to encourage compliance with mortality controls.

Numerous studies on these fisheries have reported a dramatic drop in bycatch and discarded fish including a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report which found that catch share fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico reduced red snapper discards by 50% in 2010, just three years after a catch share program was implemented. And in some fisheries like the Alaskan pollock fishery, fishermen create voluntary no-take zones to avoid bycatch of at-risk species while targeting specific species. In the Alaska halibut fishery after just one year of catch share implementation, there was an 80% drop in ghost fishing (when lost or abandoned gear continues to kill fish). Read More »

Posted in Catch Shares, Science/Research, Seafood| Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

It’s Official: U.S. fisheries continued their upward trend in 2012

Photo Credit: NOAA

Each year, the National Marine Fisheries Service provides the public with a “statistical snapshot” of fish landings in the United States. This week, the numbers for 2012 were released via the agency’s Fisheries in the United States report. The national picture in terms of the quantity and value of fish landed was once again encouraging. And although we didn’t quite reach the historic level of 2011—which set a new record for landings value —the upward trend enabled by improved fisheries management is unmistakable.

The raw numbers in the report are another reminder of the critical role fishing plays as an economic driver in the United States. U.S. commercial fishermen landed 9.6 billion pounds of seafood in 2012, valued at $5.1 billion. The ex-vessel value of seafood landed in Alaska alone was $1.7 billion; $618.2 million in Massachusetts; $448.5 million in Maine. Those figures don’t include economic benefits derived throughout the value chain, with jobs created and supported at the docks, in processing, transportation and sales.

Recreational fisheries are also experiencing robust activity.   More than nine million anglers took 70 million trips last year, catching nearly 380 million fish. The estimated total catch weight was more than 200 million pounds, the most popular species being spotted seatrout, Atlantic croaker, black sea bass, summer flounder and red drum. Numerous other reports and studies have documented the economic benefits that recreational fishing stimulates, supporting jobs in industries ranging from marine manufacturing to tourism.

Without healthy, sustainable fisheries, none of these benefits would accrue. It’s true that we have more work to do to ensure that all our nation’s fisheries are being managed for long-term health, and that fishermen in some regions still face daunting economic challenges. But taken as a whole, this week’s report provides further evidence that the reforms of recent years are paying dividends. The value of commercial seafood landed in 2012 was almost 20% higher than the average of the last decade.

Ultimately that means more money in the pockets of fishermen—who in many parts of the country are seeing a return on their investment in new rights-based management approaches that incentivize conservation and ensure compliance with science-based catch limits.

Posted in NOAA| Also tagged , , , | Comments closed

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.

Posted in Gulf of Mexico| Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

How Sustainable is your Supermarket’s Seafood Case?

sustainability rankings of seafood retailers 2013

ImageCredit: Greenpeace, from "Carting Away the Oceans 2013" Report

Last week, Greenpeace USA released the seventh edition of their popular Carting Away the Oceans report, which ranks the sustainable seafood performance of the nation’s 20 largest supermarket chains. Industry leaders like Wegmans (a former EDF partner on salmon and shrimp sourcing), Whole Foods and Safeway once again scored in the top five, while Winn Dixie, Publix and Supervalu perennially find themselves at the bottom of the rankings.

This year’s report places extra emphasis on the ways that these companies approach pressing conservation policy issues, such as the approval of genetically-modified salmon, the advancement of industry-wide seafood traceability, and catch methods for canned tuna.

Perhaps the report’s biggest surprise was the improvement shown by prepared foods leader Trader Joe’s, which rocketed up 12 spots (from 15th in 2012 to 3rd this year). This comes just weeks after public scrutiny of the company’s follow-through on its 2012 sustainable seafood promise. However, Greenpeace gave Trader Joe’s a major pat on the back for removing several unsustainable species from their inventory and switching to better sources of canned tuna.

Although we don’t always agree with our Greenpeace colleagues about the composition of their ‘red list’, we were happy to see them recognize the improving sustainability of Gulf of Mexico red snapper and grouper – fisheries that EDF has worked in for more than a decade. They even gave a nod to EDF partner H-E-B for their strong support of the GulfWild traceability program.

So until next year’s edition, try to use your seafood dollars to support companies that are on the right track. If you are uncertain about the right species to purchase, you can refer to our recently revamped “Seafood Selector.” Let’s hope that the good continue to get better and the not-so-good get serious about seafood sustainability.

 

Posted in Seafood| Also tagged , | Comments closed

Seafood Selector helps you have your hake (and eat it too)

Environmental Defense Fund recently released the latest version of its popular Seafood Selector, a tool to help make consumers aware of critical ocean conservation issues through the fish that they and their families eat. Today I want to take a moment to remember what life was like in 2001, when our first version came out as a small black-and-white paper cutout in the organization's quarterly member newsletter. (I know it’s hard to believe, but most people still received their environmental news by snail mail back in those days).

Back then, most people still didn’t have cell phones, and those that did just kept them in their gloveboxes for emergencies. I was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, studying shark ecology and physiology. Even as a young marine biologist, I was largely unaware of the impacts of our personal choices on the health of the oceans.

Raising consumer awareness of ocean conservation issues was no easy task 12 years ago – and is still a challenge today – given the complexity of how most fish makes it to our plates. For example, here are some interesting facts you might not know about the U.S. seafood market:

  • More than 90% of U.S. seafood is now imported.
  • Almost two-thirds of our imported fish comes from Asia.
  • Our seafood trade deficit is approximately $11 billion. That’s billion with a ‘B’.
  • Almost 60% of U.S. seafood consumption is from 3 items (shrimp, canned tuna, salmon). If you add ‘whitefish’, like pollock, cod and tilapia, the per capita total goes up to 80%.
  • More than 50% of U.S. seafood is now farm-raised.
  • Roughly 33% of U.S. seafood is mislabeled.
  • Americans eat 10% less seafood than they did in 2004 (15 lbs/person in 2011 versus 16.6 lbs/person in 2004).

Consumers care about sustainability now more than ever. That means they want to know where their food comes from, and more importantly, what impact its production had on the environment. This is especially true in restaurants, where a recent survey of chefs by the National Restaurant Association found that local and sustainable seafood accounted for three of the Top 10 culinary trends for 2013.

EDF's latest version of the Seafood Selector makes it easier than ever for seafood lovers to make fish choices that are healthy for them AND the oceans, with profiles of more than 200 types of commonly eaten seafood. The new Seafood Selector is also optimized for just about every type of mobile device out there. (I, for one, can’t wait to see what the 2023 Seafood Selector looks like!) So whether you want to know the difference between farmed and wild salmon, the mercury content of different types of tuna, or learn more about EDF’s fisheries work around the country – Seafood Selector is the tool for you.

Posted in Seafood| Also tagged , , | Comments closed

Support American Fishermen: Fish for a different dish

monkfish

Photo Credit: Nate Gray/flickr
Monkfish, aka American goosefish, eats way better than it looks.

When it comes to seafood, we  are creatures of narrow habit. The average American eats about 15 pounds of seafood each year  (well below the global average for coastal nations), almost 60% of which is either shrimp, canned tuna or salmon. That number jumps to more than 80% if you include "whitefish" like pollock, tilapia and cod.

So when one of these few items becomes overfished, too expensive or less available, the market usually just tries to pass off some other species in its place.

For example, 20 years ago, no one knew what a slimehead or American goosefish was. But when Atlantic cod fisheries crashed, low-value orange roughy and monkfish slowly gained in popularity and are now staples on restaurant menus – even though most people have no idea what the actual fish look like. What started out as worthless bycatch (also known as trash fish) that usually got dumped overboard will now routinely run you $10/lb or more in the market.

Unfortunately, Atlantic cod populations off New England are actually faring even worse today. We recently learned thatfishing quotas for 2013 will be slashed by almost 80% in certain areas compared to last year. There are several factors at play, among them decades of intense fishing pressure, ecosystem shifts and climate change. Nevertheless, we should still support New England fishermen by purchasing what little local cod makes it to market in 2013.

But how can we ensure that this iconic fishery – and others like it on the Pacific coast – don’t disappear quietly in the night? Our experience with orange roughy and monkfish provides one important answer: Previously unfamiliar fish can win the hearts of seafood lovers and help strengthen local fisheries.

It turns out that cod fishermen can also target several other related species, but traditionally haven’t done so because they don’t yet command a good price. Trash fish (or as I like to call them, under-appreciated species) like Atlantic hakepollock and Acadian redfish may be the key to this fishery’s survival. Read More »

Posted in EDF Oceans General, Seafood| Also tagged , , | Comments closed

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 »

Posted in New England, Seafood| Also tagged , , , | Comments closed