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With all the news lately on food safety, food labeling, organic versus genetically engineered foods, "Slow Food" versus fast food, and artisanal versus industrial production, meeting the demand for seafood while addressing the nation's "seafood trade deficit," has not been easy. With concern for overfishing while at the same time meeting the demands of the world's ever growing population, it may be time to think about what course fishermen should be plotting.
What is the future of fish as a food source with all these changes, new management techniques and an increase in aquaculture coupled with global climate change and ever growing human population? How do fish and fishermen fit into the global food movement? How do we promote environmentally sustainable seafood when consumers are left confused and often not knowing how their fish were caught or produced or where they are from?
The United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates capture fisheries and aquaculture supplied the world with about 110 million tons of food fish in 2006. Overall, fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with at least 15 percent of their average per capita animal protein intake. Hundreds of millions of people rely on seafood for an essential source of nutrition, especially in coastal nations.
Moreover, fisheries and aquaculture play an essential role in the livelihoods of millions of people around the world. In 2006, an estimated 43.5 million people were directly engaged, part time or full time, in primary production of fish either in capture from the wild or in aquaculture, and a further 4 million people were engaged on an occasional basis.
The World Bank estimates that the livelihoods of about 200 million people depend on fishing and associated activities. In the last three decades, employment in the primary fisheries and aquaculture sector has grown faster than the world's population and employment in traditional agriculture. That figure does not apply to the US fishing fleet, obviously.
Seafood is one of the most traded primary commodities in world. Despite the increasingly industrial models of food production and the lack of recognition for farmers and fishermen in US society, the key to our food security and food sovereignty is tied to the US's ability to produce food within it's borders and not depend on other counties for this necessary human requirement. Maintaining food production, therefore, in this country is probably even more important than maintaining "energy independence."
Food sovereignty was defined by the Declaration of Nyeleni as the the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.
Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees just income to all peoples and the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition. It ensures that the rights to use and manage our lands, territories, waters, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food. Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social classes and generations.
The food sovereignty movement has come to be in a reaction against current industrial methods of food production. These industrial food models have been put in place as "the most efficient" way to feed our ever growing human population. The ever growing human population -- now approaching 7 billion -- and the resources required to sustain it have to be addressed in any talk of our food system.
For fishing this means that overfishing is tied to consumer demand, i.e. the demand of the incessantly growing world's population to be fed and the increasingly consumptive lifestyles of developed countries. Strict management regimes, with well-enforced regulations -- where they exist (most of the US) are what stands in the way of demand creating overfishing.
Despite agricultural and food production advances by Americans and people in other developed countries, we have failed to make Americans healthier. In fact, many Americans meet the criteria to be considered malnourished. Micheal Pollan, the bestselling author food expert, has found in the developed world that a portion of the population (more than just the "foodies") have begun changing the way they eat, and more experts are recommending real, well-grown, unprocessed food and pointing out that health is directly related to what we eat.
There is a global food movement toward more sustainable food, sourced closer to the consumer, such as farmers markets, and knowing where your food comes from through labeling and direct marketing. This movement hasn't traditionally included seafood, but that is changing. Most of the recommendations on how to eat healthy include seafood. Efforts to clear up consumer confusion about what is safe and good to eat with all food, especially including seafood, are paramount.
Overpopulation of humans is the overarching threat to all sustainability on earth, so with overpopulation in mind, consider the following threats:
Structure of the Fisheries
The first question that comes to mind in talking about what kind of fisheries we envision for the future is, how will they be structured? There has been a push to privatize fisheries under individual fishing quota systems (IFQs) -- the notion behind the push being that all other forms of fishery management have failed and only privatization of the public resources will create the stewardship to prevent overfishing. This simply is not true.
Fisheries have long been managed successfully without dividing them up into individual transferable quotas and accepting the resultant consolidation. Moreover, some IFQ fisheries such as the New Zealand Hoki can still suffer from overfishing, because dividing up the fish into individual quotas will do nothing for conservation if the total allowable catch (TAC) is not based on accurate data or not adhered to.
One of the problems with IFQ systems is that unless they are very carefully crafted (e.g., the North Pacific halibut and sablefish IQ systems) they can lead to massive consolidation of the fleet and put the ownership of the fisheries in very few hands, be it an absentee armchair quota owner or a multinational corporation. Consolidation means fewer jobs in fishing, fewer boats, the loss of fishing infrastructure, and the loss of access to the fish by some fishing communities.
Unless ownership of quotas is restricted to those actually engaged in fishing aboard a vessel, the fishermen end up having to lease the quota or work under a fish processors' or some absentee quota owner's shares. (For more on this see the previous FN article August 2009, "March On," www.pcffa.org/fn-aug09.htm). IFQs do not necessarily increase stewardship. As individuals' quotas are bought up by banks or multi-national corporations that do not have a stake in local sustainability, the less stewardship incentive there is and the more the safety of the fishermen is likely to be compromised.
A second form of catch shares has arisen, coming from largely overlooked language in the Limited Access Privilege Programs (LAPPs) provisions incorporated into of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act during the last reauthorization. That language provides for regional fishing associations as well as community fishing associations (CFAs). CFAs hold out the promise for maintaining the infrastructure of fishing ports and access to fisheries by allowing it to be structured in a way to fit local circumstances.
A community association in some fishing communities could be used primarily to market fish, while in another it could be used to acquire fishing quota in order to maintain a small scale port-based fleet and local fishery. See PCFFA's March 2009 FN article for more information on the potentials of CFAs (www.pcffa.org/fn-mar09.htm).
Bio-Engineering of Food
The release of genetically engineered fish through ocean aquaculture operations is a very real threat that has the potential to create devastating impacts to the environment and human health. There has not been a chance for long term safety testing of these genetically engineered products.
Human health implications potentially include: toxins created by unexpected mutations in an organism, allergic reactions and other side effects, and potential decreased nutritional value. Furthermore, any problems emerging from genetically engineered foods will not be able to be traced due to lack of labels and unclear chains of custody.
Potential enivironmental hazards include gene pollution. Once genetically engineered organisms, bacteria and viruses are released into the environment it is impossible to contain them, and they may do damage to natural ecology systems. A 2001 National Academy of Sciences report states that the release of genetically engineered fish into the environment may threaten the survival of wild species.
Furthermore, a 2004 Purdue University research study contains experimental data that strengthens the plausibility of that "Trojan gene" effect. Researchers named this effect the Trojan gene because it at first deceptively appears like a good thing. In this study the "good thing" were fish altered with human growth hormone. Modified individuals sexually mature and grow faster than their natural counterparts and thus attract more mates, but the study found that only two-thirds of the offspring of these fish survived. Thus, the spread of fish modified with the human growth hormone could actually cause the wild fish to go extinct over time.
Researchers are currently in the process of developing more than 35 species of genetically engineered fish. At least one company, AquaBounty, has requested approval from the FDA to market an engineered salmon that grows twice as fast as normal salmon. In 2009, 12 years after they started developing genetically engineered salmon, they completed their submission of all studies for the FDA application for AquAdvantage® Salmon. According to the AquaBounty website, the FDA is expected to complete its internal review before the end of the year, and they expect to receive approval to commence sales of genetically engineered salmon eggs.
Along with the commercial advantage of faster growing fish, AquaBounty claims its altered fish may also provide some environmental benefits over conventional fish, by consuming less feed and contributing less waste from farming pens. Additionally, according to its website, the company will market only sterile, all-female hybrid salmon that cannot reproduce with native salmon populations; breeding with wild fish is a major concern when farmed fish escape their pens, and further studies are needed to predict the unknown consequences of GE fish on wild populations. But contrary to industry claims, sterilization of GE fish will not be 100 % effective in a commercial situation, and will not prevent all crossbreeding between GE fish and wild fish.
During the last days of the Bush Administration, on January 15, 2009, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) released its Final Guidelines on Regulation of Genetically Engineered Animals. The guidance explains the process by which FDA is regulating GE animals and provides a set of recommendations to producers of GE animals to help them meet their obligations and responsibilities under the law. While the guidance is intended for industry, FDA believes it may also help the public gain a better understanding of this "important and developing area."
However, the FDA's new guidance wouldn't require GE food to be labeled, unless it has, for example, a different nutritional profile from conventional food. That's because the guidance would enable engineered-food to be sold according to the same type of requirements that apply to conventionally bred animals treated with drugs, which don't require labeling. The end result: consumers would have no way of knowing if they are buying GE food. This policy is in contrast to the European Union, as public concern there led to limits on the marketing of GE food, and any such product that does get approved for sale must be so labeled.
Ocean acidication occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves in seawater and carbonic acid is formed. Scientists are predicting that the current rate of change in acidity and the predicted acidity for 2100 are outside the range experienced by the oceans for at least half a million years. This rapid change is expected to affect the growth of plankton, which will have serious consequences for the productivity and functioning of many marine ecosystems. Plankton play key roles in marine food chains, ocean processes, and climate.
Phytoplankton perform two-thirds of all the Earth's photosynthesis, which is the process by which plants turn light, nutrients and carbon dioxide into food. The amount of CO2 processed by phytoplankton during photosynthesis affects concentrations of CO2 in the water, which determines how much of the greenhouse gas the oceans can absorb. Currently, each year the ocean absorbs approximately one-fourth of the CO2 emitted from human activities.
Climate change will affect land use patterns, as areas that have been arable are likely to shift and some arable lands may not be able to support food production anymore. Likewise, wild lands that we have set aside to protect some level of biodiversity will be affected and may end up being unable to support the ecosystems we initially set aside to protect.
This means a couple of things for food production on land. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected that increased frequency of heat stress, droughts and floods will negatively affect land food production, and that climate variability will also modify the risks of fires, pest and pathogen outbreak, negatively affecting food, fiber and forestry.
In the ocean, the full impact of ocean acidification and how it will affect marine ecosystems and fisheries remains largely unknown. Changing ocean temperatures will affect the numbers and locations of different species of fish. Scientists are currently predicting a large scale redistribution of fish species.
A current study by the Sea Around Us Project at the University of British Columbia suggests that certain regions like Norway, Greenland, Alaska and the east coast of Russia will benefit from climate change in terms of fisheries redistribution, while Indonesia, the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii), Chile and China can expect decreases. Current conservation and fisheries management measures do not account for climate-driven species distribution shifts.
Ocean acidification is also decreasing the ability of marine organisms such as snails to build their shells and skeletal structures. Additionally the shifting of ocean currents is expected, along with an increase in ocean dead zones.
Maintaining a domestic fishing fleet is key to maintaining the Unites States' food sovereignty in a time of changing and unpredictable climate change. Making sure that the United States maintains a small boat fleet as described in the "Artisanal vs. Industrial" section may be a key factor in ensuring the United States' adaptability to climate change as erratic weather and hostile ocean conditions could increasingly be in the forecast.
Additionally, climate change and its root cause may alter how the seafood sector does business. For example, sending our fish across continents to China or some other country for processing may soon cease as the carbon emitted during transportation will render the practice unfeasible either due to environmental restrictions or economic impediments, as the true costs of such a practice will be factored in.
A Correct Course for Aquaculture
As the National Atmospheric & Oceanic Administration (NOAA) begins to grapple with how capture fisheries and aquaculture will fit into the country's long-term development, it will have to realize the inherit dangers involved with open-system aquaculture (OSA) operations and do what is necessary to safeguard valuable US waters. Additionally, with the reality of global human overpopulation, it is necessary to ensure that all aquaculture operations result in a net increase, rather than decrease of net protein for human consumption.
Aquaculture has now increased to nearly 50 percent of the world's seafood consumption. This fast paced growth has come with poorly planned regulations. Currently in the United States there are no national standards in place for the new expansion of aquaculture into offshore waters, despite a push from our federal government to open up our waters to these offshore aquaculture operations.
The dangers associated with open-ocean aquaculture include the accidental escapes of (often non-native and potentially genetically modified) farmed fish and their impacts on wild populations, nutrients and chemicals discharged from the net pens, and the increased demand for fish meal to feed farmed fish. As global demand for omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fish protein continues to grow, so does the production of farmed finfish.
Offshore Aquaculture involves the use of net pens or other water permeable enclosure devices to contain farmed fish in either marine, brackish, or freshwater environments. Unnaturally high densities of fish are maintained in these fish enclosure devices. Water currents are relied upon to flush away fish waste, antibiotics, excess feed, and other materials from the fish enclosures.
In most offshore aquaculture systems the effects of these fish farm effluents on the surrounding environment are very difficult to trace; however, biological accumulation in the food chain or bottom sediments may eventually result in long-term effects. Excess wastes and nutrients can also severely affect surrounding communities by fueling the growth of algae and bacterial decomposition, which robs wild fish stocks of dissolved oxygen.
The negative effects of OSA aquaculture reach beyond their indirect impacts on fish habitats. High concentrations of farmed fish harbor disease that can readily spread to wild fish stocks in the immediate area. Vectors for disease can take the form of escaped aquaculture fish, fish farm effluents, and sea lice. Sea lice can easily pass through the enclosure device and begin parasitizing wild fish, draining them of precious energy resources necessary to mate, hunt, and escape predators.
The most sought after aquaculture fish species are often high-dollar, carnivorous salmon, tuna, and cobia. These species require large amounts of omega-3 oil and fish meal to grow. As a result, the wild fish to farmed fish protein conversion ratio is often very high. Rather than reduce pressure on wild stocks, aquaculture has instead increased that pressure to cater to the dietary desires of the affluent. It can take about 5 pounds of wild fish to create one pound of farmed salmon. This kind of protein waste is not acceptable on a planet of almost 7 billion people. Omnivorous fish species, such as tilapia, which can survive primarily on vegetarian diet, require much less fish-sourced feed.
There are many competing users that currently rely on the nation's ocean territory, lakes, and rivers. Adding offshore aquaculture installations to America's maritime portfolio has the potential to restrict shipping traffic, impact valuable wild fisheries, obstruct naval operations, and create a host of environmental problems. Technological measures, management measures, and regulations cannot wash away the inherit costs associated with offshore aquaculture, but they may open the door or clear the path for a more benign form of onshore aquaculture.
As demand for seafood continues to rise in the United States, a trade deficit has built up in the US with seafood. Our national exports have not been able to keep up with the staggering amount of seafood imported daily. The US currently imports approximately 80 percent of its seafood, with 47 percent of this seafood coming from farmed origins.
Decreasing this large trade deficit represents a vital element in the restructuring and rebuilding of the US economy. Our country needs to focus on the production of material goods for trade if it wants to reclaim it's robust economy of 60 years ago. To do this we as a society need to sand the rust off our dilapidated industrial centers and get back on the line producing safe, quality American products.
Closed system aquaculture (CSA) has great potential to fill the demand for such tangible production, while fulfilling consumers demand for seafood and not damaging the environment. CSA contains the cultured product and the effluents they produce in man-made holding ponds or storage tanks. Water from the operation is treated before it is either recycled back into the system or used for other purposes. If the water is going off-site, federal and state environmental protections already in existence, such as the Clean Water Act (CWA), require that it meet safe standards.
An ecosystem approach to CSA, know as re-circulating aquaculture systems (RAS), goes beyond simply producing fish. Wastewater from the tanks can be processed via biological means to be cycled back through the system. Nitrogen fixing bacteria create usable nitrogen from fish urea. This fixed nitrogen is then coupled with the nutrient laden water and fed to plants. This can include producing tilapia along with an assortmnet of herbs and vegetables as seen in one of the systems created by Premier Organic Farms.
The plentitude of fish and produce available through urban RAS could foster a wealth of sustainable jobs for American citizens who need them most. Abandoned factories located in struggling mid-west towns like Detroit or Flint, Michigan, are the appropriate home for the blue revolution, not the sea.
Artisanal Food Production
Perhaps the best hope for truly sustainable fisheries is small scale, more artisanal models of fishing. For example, small scale fisheries use less fuel, utilize more labor over capital, and the fish is utilized for human consumption, not fishmeal. Using Micheal Pollan's hypothesis of a need for more farmers, not fewer, we can extrapolate that principle on to our fisheries and say we too need more fishermen, not fewer. A case can be made that the best fisheries management model for the ultimate good of the majority of US citizens would be to live in harmony with the biological constraints necessary to ensure sustainability, while increasing the number of jobs involved in the fisheries.
Moving away from industrialized methods of harvesting would decrease our reliance on many large vessels, or vessels of excessive capacity. As the demand for seafood stays constant or raises due to continued human population growth, and as consumers learn the benefit of eating domestically caught seafood and are willing to pay more for it, it is not unreasonable to think that a fishery managed with many small vessels could provide a middle class income, while the fishermen still maintains his/her independence.
An artisanal approach spreads out effort geographically and thus makes it easier to avoid substantial environmental impacts. Of course, in the United States not all fisheries (menhaden and pollock come to mind) would easily lend themselves to the artisanal model. Also, it goes without saying that if the human population keeps exploding, the artisanal model may not ultimately work for feeding the world's population.
Currently the notion of "efficiency" dominates in the US approach to managing fisheries. Such a dependence on efficiency reduces fleet size and consolidates catch into the hands of a few people. We need to look at a different idea of efficiency in the Unites States, one that measures efficiency as the most amount of people working, each making the most amount possible.
An artisanal approach that embraces fishery diversity and the portfolio approach to fisheries will allow fishermen to follow the natural rhythms of the cyclical nature of the fisheries. The current management style tends to lock fishermen into a single fishery through fixed quotas, limited entry systems, and catch shares. A model based on this new kind of efficiency would be buoyed by vibrant fishing communities that would be sustained by the naturally occurring local diversity of fisheries, which are harvested by an assortment of gear types. This sort of diversity can ensure that these communities remain economically viable and will act as a buffer against the vagaries of nature and the marketplace.
A more artisanal small boat fleet will have the advantage of flexibility as ocean conditions change rapidly due to ocean acidification and climate change. With major shifts in stock migrations, composition and distribution likely due to global climate change predicted, this kind of flexibility might be the key piece in economic survival of the commercial fisherman.
With the implementation of the Country of Origin Labeling Act (COOL) in 2005, the seafood picture got a little clearer. The fishermen fought for the labeling as a way to give the consumer more information about their product, with the hope that ultimately the consumer would favor domestically caught products.
The new standards were intended to inform consumers about where seafood comes from and if it is farm-raised or wild-caught. Unfortunately, the USDA did not create a strong labeling program. "Processed" seafood is exempt, leaving more than 50% sold in the US without labels, 90% of fish sellers, such as wholesale markets, are exempt, no enforcement mechanism exists and violators face paltry fines.
Unfortunately, some of the labeling requirements of COOL have ultimately confused the consumers instead of demystifying the food chain. For example, if seafood is processed and/or value is added in a different country, then the seafood product is labeled as a product of that country where the value adding took place. This is commonly seen in the frozen seafood aisle of major supermarket chains, such as Krogers, Costco, and Walmart. This is a true impediment to the education of our nation's consumers.
Teaching consumers the importance of purchasing domestically caught fish (because it is the most sustainable and caught under the strictest regulations) is not possible when they cannot then identify the products as domestically caught in the seafood aisle. Seafood labeling can be confusing for the layperson, and wading through frozen sockeye salmon fillets with a stamp that says "product of China" is only adding to the confusion.
Giving consumers more information about their food is the basis of creating more intelligent choices. There is a growing concern among consumers as to the safety, nutritional value, and environmental sustainability of the food they purchase. In response to this movement, some groups have begun to promote eating sustainably harvested seafood as part of an environmentally responsible lifestyle.
There is a national movement to produce sustainable seafood guides to encourage consumers to purchase products that are sustainably caught or farmed. The theory behind these guides is to harness market forces to reward sustainable fisheries and make poorly managed fisheries bear some of the true environmental costs of destructive practices, eventually putting non-sustainable systems out of business. However, the effectiveness of these guides is hampered by a lack of basic information to support using their recommendations. It is usually impossible for consumers to distinguish the different capture or farming methods.
Even without environmental considerations, informational labeling can also be used by the consumer to make decisions on whether or not to buy locally caught seafood. We believe this will generally benefit local fleets and local fishing communities, and help recapture local markets from foreign imports. Time and time again it has been shown that the public wants to support local fishermen over foreign imports and sourcing food as close to home as possible.
Buying food that is produced close to the consumer and not shipped half way around the world for processing is key to reducing energy used on food production. But we need better labeling if are going to achieve this. It is critical for the consumer and the fishermen to support accurate labeling that gives people the right to choose whether they want to buy fish from their local community or imported from across the world.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an international non-profit labeling scheme that was started in Europe in 1999 as a project of the World Wildlife Foundation. Since it's inception, it has certified 42 of the world's fisheries as "sustainable." MSC now has 200 million items being sold annually in 36 countries rewarding the best managed fisheries in the world. While the intentions behind creating a labeling system that tries to ensure sustainability and the subsequent promotion of these "good" fisheries was a breakthrough concept at the time, the labeling scheme is far from perfect.
Through the years there has been criticism over different fisheries they have certified and if they truly meet the concept of sustainability advanced by the MSC. For example the New Zealand hoki fisheries has been a controversial certification starting back in 2001, but recently the New York Times completed an expose on the hoki stock's decline and subsequent quota decrease by two-thirds. Also recently under fire is the Alaska pollock fishery, which recent data suggests is declining.
Additionally,the labeling scheme's partnership in 2006 with Walmart raised some eyebrows, as the sustainability of a finite resource did not seem to mesh with Wal-Mart's established business model.
Also, the cost of certification makes going through the process to determine if a fishery is eligible for MSC certification expensive for smaller-scale fisheries. Therefore, at least in the US, there are quite a few fisheries that probably could be certified under MSC but do not have the resources to work towards that goal.
One potential source of funding for California fishermen for seafood certification programs including the MSC lies in the signing of California AB 1217 last month. This bill makes provisions for the state to develop standards for what constitutes sustainable fishing practices and initiate labeling for seafood that meets these standards. This bill provides for a "sustainable seafood promotion" program that includes a grant program to assist fisheries in qualifying for certification. Participation is voluntary, and those that choose to participate can take advantage of the sustainable label as a marketing point. This is an opportunity to showcase some of the sustainable fishing practices in California and set benchmarks for other states.
This program would also develop a label to identify and market seafood caught in California that is sustainably certified. Thankfull,y and with some forthought, the bill prohibits seafood produced through aquaculture to be certified as sustainable until national or international standards have been implemented.
Local and Seasonal
Nowadays, fewer people are engaged in work as food producers. Much of our nation's food is imported from thousands of miles using nonrenewable sources of energy contributing to global warming. As our food infrastructure has grown throughout the past century, people have become disconnected from their food sources and less aware of the origin of their food.
To counter the industrialization of our food systems, the movement towards increased consumption of locally-produced foods was advanced, initially through such organizations as Slow Food. The imminent dangers of climate change and the environmental benefits of eating close to home makes eating as locally as possible very desirable.
The local food movement was catapulted to a new sense of urgency this summer in the US when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newson announced his Executive Directive on Food and established his new Food Policy Committee. At the heart of the mayor's directive was an idea to work to preserve fertile areas for farm production, and to ensure that San Francisco has a reliable source of food into the future. The Mayor has vowed to take his directive to the United States Annual Conference of Mayors and challenge mayors from around the country to undertake similar initiatives. The Mayor decided to make sure fisheries were included in his food directive, thereby setting the stage for inclusion of the fisheries into other US based plans.
This inclusion will be especially important since commercial fishermen, their families, and coastal communities are finding it harder to continue their traditional livelihoods and pass their knowledge on to future generations. For cultures trying to hold on in the face of a shrinking world due to globalization, direct marketing approaches such as co-ops, CFAs and "community supported fisheries," seem to hold a lot of promise.
Direct marketing is a way for smaller scale fishing communities to sustain their livelihoods, traditions, and communities. Direct marketing re-links consumers with their local fishermen and instills in the consumer a greater awareness of their connection to marine life.
This summer, Sweden became the first country to include carbon output associated with food products so consumers have that information and can take that into consideration when purchasing food. This is an important new development since the environmental reality of people's food purchasing decisions will now confront them and may change their purchasing habits to factor in more environmentally friendly food products. Such awareness about the locality of food purchased can be utilized to help domestic seafood harvesters. It should be noted however, that the definition of "local" may need to be expanded for fisheries. The relative remoteness of some Alaskan and Hawaiian villages and their needs to find markets for their products needs to also be considered.
When queried, most consumers will reply that they want to eat seafood responsibly, but are not sure where to turn. Labeling programs such as MSC and COOL do not tell the whole story. For example, many consumers do not realize that commercial fishermen in the United States work closely with state agencies and the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure sustainable harvest of fisheries. In fact many consumers do not think that fisheries in the US are regulated at all!
To try to alleviate some of this confusion the Institute for Fisheries Resources started a program to educate California consumers. The project is called the "Local and Seasonal Seafood Program" and connects local fishermen to the fish buying public.
The Local and Seasonal Seafood Program is a database where the public can learn when different commercially harvested fish are in season or what the local seafood in their region is. It also connects seafood consumers with commercial fishermen who are selling their fish either off their boats, at farmers markets, or to restaurants.
By providing this information, consumers can make better informed decisions about where to buy high quality seafood. Through such transactions consumers are also able to support local fishing communities while eating the freshest seafood available.
Supporting local (or as local as possible) seafood harvesters can also help smaller family-operated fishing communities compete with large operations, while maintaining traditional coastal communities, and ensures thatthe fishermen receive a fairer wage for their labor.
Our current food systems are under threat from human overpopulation exacerbated by climate change. The act of eating is becoming increasingly politically charged. Seafood especially is riddled with difficulty because consumers are being bombarded with different messages. Between the real dangers of offshore aquaculture production, privatization of the fisheries, genetically engineered food, climate change and overpopulation, a few techniques have emerged for helping American consumers wade through the difficult decisions of eating.
Labeling schemes including eating locally caught food, onshore aquaculture production in old industrial centers, and reviving artisanal models of production are some emerging methods that will help as we try to secure food for ourselves and the next generation of humans in the United States.
About the Authors:
Born and raised in a small village on the coast of Maine, Sara has been working to promote and protect sustainable fisheries and traditional coastal communities for the past seven years. She is the current Program Director for the Institute for Fisheries Resources, where she oversees the Institute's programs that establish alliances among fishing men and women, government agencies, and concerned citizens to protect fish populations and restore aquatic habitats. In 2004, after seeing fishing men and women frustrated by their lack of a national voice, Sara was inspired to help create a national coalition of fishermen, the Commercial Fishermen of America (CFA). As a national organizer for CFA, Sara works to bring fishermen together to address problems facing the fishing community. Sara was appointed to the San Francisco Food Policy Committee in 2009 and attended the Nyeleni World Forum on Food Sovereignty in 2007. Sara also serves on the Board of Directors for the SalmonAid Foundation and the Somalia Maritime Assistance Foundation.
Natasha has spent most of her career working on marine conservation issues including fisheries, aquaculture, sustainable seafood. She has a background in science with a degree in Marine Biology from Boston University. Then she continued to get her Masters in Marine Policy from the University of Miami's Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Natasha then moved to California to work with the Institute for Fisheries Resources, where she was the Program Manager and Southwest Regional Director. She currently is an independent consultant and has worked for numerous marine conservation groups on fisheries issues. Natasha is also a member of the City of El Cerrito's Environmental Quality Committee.
This article was also prepared with collaboration on the aquaculture section by Cameron Jaggard, AmeriCorps Watershed Steward.
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