Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More on pollock, trawling, salmon, and money

John Enge recently posted a column on Alaska Report, "Science vs. Barons of the Fish Business:"
It is apparent that the two trawl fisheries mentioned above [Neah Bay, Washington, and the Bering Sea] are not conducive to family fishermen, subsistence and sport users, the many other species of fish in the ocean, or the coastal communities. The problem is that these giant factory trawlers, and many independent trawlers fishing for shore plants with 'legal rights to process a certain % of the total catch,' don't mind snuffing out all other species of sea life. The big fishery in the Bering Sea is the pollock fishery, prosecuted by mid-water trawlers. That would seem to be a safe way to fish. Just scoop up the schools of pollock, leaving plenty behind for replenishment of the stocks. (Except that half the pollock fishery is right before propogation and the pollock never get to sow the seeds of the next generation.)

…Many times, the electronics are indicating the wrong kind of fish; fish that they are not permitted by law to keep. So down goes the nets and up comes millions of pounds of squid, king salmon, chum salmon, halibut, herring and anything else that lives in proximity to the pollock. It's not like they all live in separate apartments. You clean out one apartment and you get a mixed bag of occupants. Remember, the trawl nets are like pulling a football field-sized sieve sideways through the water, with everything in that amount of space for miles squeezed into a 'sock' on the end of the net. (I won't even go into bottom trawling where Oregon State University researchers found that it extinguishes 30% of the species complex where they have been.)
According to the Marine Stewardship Council, the Alaska pollock fishery is seeking recertification as a sustainable fishery. There is a lot of money in pollock, especially in sustainably fished pollock, and some serious drivers in the purchasing end of the business. For example, McDonald's:
McDonald's purchases more than 18,000 metric tons, or 43.2 million pounds, of fish a year for its popular Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. Filet-O-Fish is made with pollock, a whitefish that lives in the cold waters off the coasts of Alaska and eastern Russia. The Marine Stewardship Council has certified U.S. Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries as models for sustainable fisheries management, but many retailers and foodservice operators still use whitefish from other fisheries that are less sustainable and traceable.
McDonald's is very interested in obtaining fish from sustainable sources, providing an economic incentive for fisheries to obtain certification of sustainability. But is that level of sustainability certified by the MSC sufficiently sustainable? or is it just better than no certification at all? or, as Thomas Royer asks, is it really only a myth?
Fisheries are generally classified as a sustainable resource on the assumption that they can be maintained for future generations. However, studies have demonstrated man's ability to deplete major fisheries since the Middle Ages.

A recent book, "The Unnatural History of the Sea" by Callum Roberts, traces the destruction of fish populations from the estuaries of England after 1000 AD to the most recent demise of orange roughy off New Zealand. It has been estimated that 90 percent of large fish have now been depleted.

Will the Bering Sea pollock fishery continue to decline? Is it already too late?
An Anchorage Daily News article last summer points to the decline in the pollock fishery, which certainly doesn't sound like it's very sustainable. One interesting thing that Callum brings up, and that is discussed at the Progressive Policy Institute, is that of subsidies "to help keep catch levels up." These subsidies to build boats were in vogue until around 2004. There is a whole blog on the subject, in fact. Among the interesting recent posts are:
WTO beaten by the Marine Stewardship Council
US: fisheries subsidies and advice to President Obama on fisheries policy
US: $170 million subsidies for commercial fishers of salmon in the West Coast
USA: fisheries subsidies and WTO Trade Policy Review
The pain of high fuel prices: US Senators introduce a bill proposing fuel subsidies for fishermen
Sustainability codes, of course, are only as good as their policy—and compliance.

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