Jes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.
Written by Jes Hathaway
February 26, 2013
I've seen some terrible headlines about fishing lately.
Officials Back Deep Cuts in Atlantic Cod Harvest to Save Industry (NYT)
Fishing's decline looms; will fish eaters notice? (AP)
First of all, if you believe the first headline, the second headline seems impossible. Cuts will save the industry, but fishing is on the precipice? (For the record, the AP story has some good reporting on imports versus local seafood and how global supply affects the markets, but I wouldn't guess that from the headline.)
Second of all, fishing is not in a decline. Or at least it needn't be. We've had a hard time figuring out why the cod aren't coming back (and for what I am sure is not the last time, fishing effort is not the only problem there), but there are 15 species in the multispecies complex that is New England groundfish. There are healthy populations in the mix, which makes perfect sense. Some are up and some are down all the time. That's the nature of nature.
Despite the now-debunked theory that we'd be all fished out globally in a mere 35 years, there are plenty of fish in the sea. We just have to figure out how best to catch the plentiful ones when they're plentiful, and then create markets for them so fishermen are getting a decent price for their efforts.
Some people who mean well are capitalizing on the horrid misnomer "trash fish."
Chefs Collaborative is organizing a $125-per-plate Trash Fish Dinner next month that will feature scup, sea robin and dogfish.
Along with being considered an — ahem — underutilized species, dogfish is very likely one of the reasons cod is so slow to return to healthy biomass numbers.
Or perhaps I should say our misguided notion to protect the dogfish is one of the reasons. Our fishery managers believed, using best available data and not accounting for fishermen's anecdotal evidence that their nets were often overwhelmed by schools of the sharks off the Atlantic coast, that dogfish were in a state of severe decline.
So we instated measures to protect them, and the result was that we were quickly overrun with them. Oh and one of their favorite meals is juvenile cod. Hmmmmm. Well that's too bad, isn't it?
There's a similar story about sea otters in Southeast Alaska, which are snapping up delicious Dungeness and quickly becoming an unsustainable population to the detriment of the remaining Dungeness fishermen there.
I suppose a true fishing advocate would run right out to order a dogfish taco while wearing a Southeast sea otter pelt.
I'm always up for a good dare.
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