Written by Jen Finn
The fishing industry is full of risks. You could go out and never get on top of the fish, lose your catch, lose your boat, lose yourself or a crew member overboard. And even if every day on the water goes as hoped or planned, you could lose your quota if the data says your fishery is not healthy enough to sustain the commercial take (sometimes regardless of the extent of fishing effort).
All of these risk factors make fishing a gamble, but they also breathe life into the industry. Farmers may be the salt of the earth, but fishermen are the salt of the sea. Many of us are drawn inexorably to the planet's ancient briny waters, but a few of us venture to reap its bounty.
And if the latest results from NOAA are right, we will have fisheries healthy enough to sustain American fishermen (and wild seafood lovers) for many years to come.
The day after the agency's annual report was released this summer, the mainstream headlines all seemed to tout the news of the populations that are currently classified as overfished. What the average headline reader doesn't know is that those populations may always be termed that way, even if we stop fishing them altogether. The ocean is a mysterious place. Have we ever known enough about undersea populations to point absolutely to any one cause of decline or uptick in a marine species? We can guess, study, make an educated guess and follow up with a reasonable approach. But even the best data is at best an estimate.
I'm not advocating throwing fishery data to the wind. If anything, I hope we will be able to study fish populations even more and with more collaboration between scientists and fishermen.
In the meantime, I'm thrilled to see the progress this industry is making through effective fishery management. While it is easy to say that 84 percent of stocks being listed as "free from overfishing" is 16 percent too low, it's also important to note that scientists studied more stocks than ever before in 2010. I hope the positive news helps take some of the pressure off of fishermen who are still fighting to keep their docks, ports, infrastructure and quotas so they can make payment on their boat and keep their deckhands employed.
Let's not forget that fishing is a job, and all jobs should be held sacred in the midst of a global recession. And if that is not enough, let us remind those who question the integrity of commercial fishing that it is an integral part of the fabric of our history as a nation as well as a thread in the natural history of the human race.
– Jessica Hathaway
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