by Katherine Wright
The sustainable seafood movement has been growing in recent years due to dropping global fish stocks, issues with overfishing and increasing demand for fish. According to the Marine Stewardship Council, demand for fish has increased 21% over the course of 10 years and the annual world catch has remained constant at 90-93 million tons per year. It is estimated that only 10% of the world’s fish are being harvested through certified Marine Stewardship Council programs. This is a low percentage of the total world catch, but not being certified may not mean there isn’t concern for the ecosystem—which happens to be case for most of the small-scale commercial fisheries based out of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts has a huge fishing industry that has shaped the coast and evolution of the state. In 2011, New Bedford, Massachusetts was highlighted as having the highest value catch in the U.S. by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the twelfth time. Fishing is serious business here in Massachusetts.
The fishing industry in Massachusetts harvests tons of wild caught seafood each year and has many organizations that support local operations in the state to ensure sustainability, most notably the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. The Alliance’s mission is to support a fleet of small fisherman dedicated to the sustainability of fish stocks in Cape Cod and the surrounding areas, thereby ensuring the health and continued economic success of this fishing industry.
Nancy Civetta, the Communications Director for the Alliance, said that fishermen are extremely proud to be the “stewards of the ocean”and want to comply to catch quotas to preserve current fish stocks, particularly cod and haddock species. The fishermen’s economic livelihoods and based on the health of these fish species—if the fish go, so do their jobs and local economies.
Ground fish like cod, haddock and striped bass were overfished for many years before stringent quota and size restrictions were set in place to protect what was left. Ray Kane, the Outreach Coordinator for the Alliance, said that currently the biomass of Cod is at about 7%, which translates to an extremely unhealthy population. He also highlighted that fishermen in the area have a hard time adjusting to the new restrictions on cod and haddock. These fish are now being protected by new policies in order to give these species enough time to regain their previous numbers, so very few can be caught yearly.
The fishermen of MA and the Alliance have bounced back from the degradation of cod and haddock by diversifying their fishing efforts into more sustainable fish populations. Now there is an emphasis on dogfish, skate, monkfish and conch to bring income to the communities. The Alliance is also working on several sustainability projects like voluntarily monitoring bycatch in scallop fishing and tracking conch growth to manage the existing fishery.
The Alliance is one of the many organizations in MA that is supporting local fishermen. They lobby the state and federal government on fishery issues and improved restrictions on essential ecosystem fish like herring. They are also heavily involved in the promotion of eating new species of fish like skate and dogfish to stimulate consumer demand and acceptability. “Trash fish”dinners are being promoted by the Alliance and the Chefs Collaborative to show the public that dogfish and skate are edible and worth considering at the market.
The label attached to seafood is not important to the fishermen of the Cape. They are more concerned with the seafood being wild caught and sustainable for the Cape. The Massachusetts small-scale fishing industries dedicate their time and energy to ensuring the ecosystem is healthy and thriving for years to come.
For more information about the Cape cod alliance visit http://capecodfishermen.org/ and http://www.fishwatch.gov/buying_seafood/choosing_sustainable.htm
Katherine Wright is a second year FPAN student interested in health technology. She wants to work in health startups that focus on creating healthier communities after she graduates in May 2014. Learn more about her on our Meet Our Writers page.