Monday, January 10, 2011

Understanding Ecosystems from a Fisherman's Perspective

One of the great things about a Community Supported Fishery is how it connects people to the local eco-system. For most of us that live along or near the coast our connection to the ocean is going to the beach in the summer, or maybe boating. But these activities can only give us a glimpse of the ocean eco-system. Fishermen have a unique perspective of the ocean from their constant presence on it and their working in it.

One of the things you often hear from fishermen is about imbalances in the ecosystem. A recent article in my hometown newspaper is a great example of a fisherman's perspective.

“Twenty years ago, it was hard to find and catch a striped bass,” Michaud said. “Now, thanks to regulations, we have seen a massive explosion of these predators who arrive when the new crop of lobsters start to arrive in July.”

In the summer, the lobstermen used to be able to provide lovely soft-shell lobsters, but now the striped bass get them all. The bass, which can reach 4 feet in length, can eat their weight in lobsters every day and travel under the lobster boats, so when the shorts get thrown back into the water, they never make it to the bottom.

The other protected predators are dogfish or small sharks, a good-tasting fish, but now there are billions of them, leading Michaud to believe they are the predominant species in Massachusetts Bay. The problem with dogfish is that they eat everything: cod, lobster, even themselves.

Predation is a problem out of control, Michaud claimed.

“You will hear people talk about over fishing, but I have always felt it’s under fishing,” he said. “We are not allowed to catch the predators."

In this case, there is a direct connection between regulations and an eco-system imbalance. This is directly the result of single species management without consideration for how fish really behave as part of an integrated system. It sounds beyond obvious to say it, but fisheries regulators are reluctant to acknowledge that fish eat other fish, in addition to people eating fish!

Another point that strikes me from reading this article is that if we lose the fishermen who are part of our communities, we lose the connection to the eco-sysytem that fishermen provide. If a factory trawler comes and fishes an area, they have no connection to the community and consequently we lose our connection to the ocean. If we lose our communities connection to the ocean, will we care more or less about the health of the ocean? I suspect we will care less simply because we will know less.

One fisherman turned researcher is finding out some amazing truths about how ecosystems work. Ted Ames' research is painting a very clear picture of how we got to where we are, and more importantly how we can go forward with eco-system management to restore and enhance an enduring marine environment.

In the meantime, your support of a community supported Fishery is a great way to make sure there is support for small scale community based fishermen. Please encourage friends and seafood lovers to give it a try. We are always working hard to come up with more creative share plans, such as the Neptune's Choice share and the bi-weekly share. Let us know what works for you so we can better serve our seafood loving customers!

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