Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fish Rules

Short post today as this blog writer is travelling in Costa Rica. The day before I left I was talking to a fisherman from Gloucester who is not a CAFC fisherman. We had an extensive conversation about fisheries regulations - which I will post some video of in the coming weeks. One of the points he made stands out.

He noted that 80% of the seafood in the US is imported and that most if not all of those fisheries are LESS regulated than the Northwest Atlantic groundfishery. In fact the New England groundfish fleet might well be the most regulated fishery in the world.

Now I dont know if that is statistically true, but we do know that most other countries do not regualte their fisheries as tightly as the US. Here in Costa Rica I went fishing with a commercial fisherman from a very small town on the Pacific coast in his Panga. We caught a number of small yellowfin tuna. When I asked the fisherman what the size limit was for yellowfin he just stared at me blankly.

"Size limit?" he said.
"Yeah, do you have any rules about how big fish have to be to keep them?" I asked.
He laughed and said, "Maybe they do, but no one knows them. Who is there to enforce that?"

In the US, fisherman endure a sea of rules about how they fish, what they fish for, how big the fish have to be to keep, how many they can catch and when and where they can fish. Enforcing those rules are th National Marine Fisheries Service, On-board observers, Dockside monitors, the Coast Guard, and beyond all that fishermen have a slew of mandated safety regulations the costs of which are in the thousands of dollars.

The point? As always, eat local fish!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This week the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and CAFC along with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance met with a group from Healthcare Without Harm. The group was comprised of foodservice managers, chefs etc., from several area hospitals. The topic of the day was how hospitals can improve their seafood purchasing decisions to improve patient health, reduce the environmental impact of their purchases and if possible support the communities in which they live and work. Sounds a lot like why people join a CSF!

I was not able to attend the entire presentation as we were having another one of our famous Seafood Throwdowns at the Gloucester Sidewalk Days Festival. (Check out some video here of local Gloucester impresario Joey Ciamartaro – owner/operator of - talking about the virtues of Dogfish aka Cape Shark.) However the parts I was able to attend I was thoroughly impressed by the attendees ambitions to increase local seafood in their hospital menus. There were some tough questions asked, and truthfully, these are also some of the main questions we get at CAFC from members as well as critics.

One of the presenters was Vito Giacalone, a Gloucester Fisherman as well as the owner of the Boston Seafood Display Auction in Gloucester where CAFC fish is landed. One of the hospital administrators asked how most of the fish in Gloucester were caught. Vito said that most of the boats are draggers with a small percentage of net boats. Her follow up question was, “We hear all the time that draggers are bad for the environment and are listed on the seafood buyer’s guides as an ‘avoid’ fishing practice. How can we buy seafood from draggers if that is the case?”

Vito’s response was that people have been dragging the same local waters for fifty plus years. In that time, they are finding the fish in the exact same spots that his father caught fish forty years ago. There are no secret spots, the fish tend to go to the same places and the fishermen go to the same places. If they were destroying the habitat how and why are the fish populations coming back? Not only that, but most of the draggers are small day boats that use technology to stay just off the bottom.

Now, keep that anecdote in mind. The next story was told by one of the folks from Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington, VT who is at the forefront of the local and healthy in hospitals movement. They did a survey of all the kinds of seafood they could serve and used several criteria including the seafood buyer’s guidelines. One of the seafoods they came across that is recommended highly by most of the seafood buyers guides is Alaska Pollock.

But Fletcher Allen dug a bit deeper than the seafood cards and found out that not only is Alaska Pollock on of the most industrialized fleets in the world, but they use huge drag nets to catch the Pollock. Once the Pollock is caught and flash frozen, it is shipped to China for processing then shipped back to the US for sale. Yet according to some seafood buyer guides, Alaska trawl caught Pollock is more sustainable than Atlantic trawl caught Cod.As with most purchase decisions these days the confrontation for the conscientious buyer is between a cheap product with an unknown social and environmental cost .vs a more costly product that has social and environmental integrity. I don’t know about you, but I know I feel a lot better getting my fish from a small local producer with a known social and environmental footprint than from a far-flung factory operation where the real social and environmental costs are buried in a huge carbon footprint and a factory in China.

And don’t even get me started on the difference in the taste…

Monday, August 2, 2010

I had a great opportunity to speak with a bunch of CAFC members recently at one of the Seafood Throwdowns we do in conjunction with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. Cape Ann Fresh Catch will be co-hosting several Seafood Throwdowns this summer in Gloucester. There is a calendar of events here. I also got to talk to a bunch of folks who were interested in the program but questioned what we mean by ‘sustainable’. For some reason when this conversation comes up people always bring up Cod and whether it is sustainable. The other common question is whether the fishing methods are sustainable. (We’ll tackle the latter issue in another blog post.)

There are several aspects to this discussion, and for many people, even those of us who deal with this issue on a daily basis; we have to admit that it can be confusing. The simplest way to begin is to go back to an earlier blog post where we noted that the New England Fisheries Management Council (the NEFMC is one of eight regional councils established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act to advise the government on regulations) has recently improved the assessments of most of the fish stocks you will see from CAFC, including noting that the Cod stocks that CAFC fish come from are no longer overfished.

The most important misconception people have in understanding Cod sustainability is to think that Atlantic Cod are all one population. This could not be farther from the truth. Canada, for example fished their cod to the point of extinction, the US has not. They are separate populations of fish of the same species that have as much to do with each other as human population levels in the US and China. We are even learning that within the GOM there are distinct sub-populations, thus the reason Western GOM cod are recovering while Eastern GOM Cod are not. It is possible, even likely, that currently one of the strongest populations of Cod in the Western Atlantic is just off Gloucester at Middle Bank. (For further information on this subject, check out the work NAMA is doing to promote finer scale management.)

Still, there is much that we do not know. I am sure you have heard the adage that we know more about outer space than we do the oceans, which is even true on the fishing grounds we have been fishing for centuries. Our approach is to pay attention to the latest science, listen to the fishermen and listen to those who purchase shares in CAFC.

We know there are other views out there. And, I should add that we also hear a lot more of “I love the Cod!” than complaints about cod. So chime in, post a comment below, let us know what you think and what you want to know more about. We'll be

Also, don’t forget to sign up for the new 8 week season beginning Aug 8. Also please feel free to post a flyer at your work, church, community center, coffee shop, CSA etc. (LINK).

Thanks for a wonderful summer season so far. Looking forward to seeing you all again in a couple weeks.