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Blog Posts: Fish

January 2nd, 2014

Starting the Year Off Right

By Briana Kerensky

With the holiday season finally rolling to a close, it’s time to see if we can make good on our New Year’s resolutions. Getting healthy; spending more time with our families; being more productive at the office; these are all things we promise ourselves when the ball drops.

Here at Food & Water Watch, we’ve made our own resolutions. But as always, we need a little help from you to make sure we can achieve them. Here are some of the urgent priorities we’ll be focusing on early this year that will be crucial to win if we want to protect our essential resources—and our democracy. Read the full article…

August 7th, 2013

Five Things to Consider When Ordering Seafood…(Make That Six!)

By Rich Bindell

While traveling through Oregon’s central coast in July, I stopped in Newport, a pretty port town with a lot of seafood places. I quickly learned that the local version of crab chowder meant Dungeness crab, as opposed to the Maryland Blue Crab I’ve grown accustomed to in and around the District of Columbia region. I asked the server if she knew where the crab was from, an important question, even when eating in a seaside town.

She pointed and said, “See that red boat over there, third from the left? That’s our guy. He just brought it over two hours ago.” “That’s great,” I replied. “Sorry to doubt you. I just want to make sure that if I’m in a great seaside town like this, I actually get to enjoy genuine, locally caught seafood.” She agreed and wondered aloud why it’s so hard to figure out seafood these days. 

“That’s why we have the Smart Seafood Guide,” I enthusiastically shouted!

We’re still technically in the middle of summer, with plenty of primetime for enjoying the edible gems of our lakes, rivers and seas. While it can be rather challenging to find locally-sourced, sustainably caught seafood at restaurants and supermarkets, it’s not impossible. Like solving a puzzle, you just have to learn to ask the right questions.

That’s why Food & Water Watch publishes our Smart Seafood Guide. We’re happy to introduce our new model for you, which includes a special section called, “5 Things to Consider When Ordering Seafood,” that should prove helpful to anyone looking to make it a little easier to make smart decisions about seafood.

1. Local fish are few and far between.

2. “Atlantic” salmon is farmed salmon.

3. “Organic” seafood is not what it seems.

4. Beware of imported shrimp.  

5. Bivalve shellfish are often good options.

For more detail behind the Big 5, check out our Smart Seafood Guide, which still includes our classic Dirty Dozen list. What’s the sixth thing to consider, you ask? Make sure you remember to have the Smart Seafood Guide with you when you get a hankering for a hunk of haddock or halibut or… you get the idea. Just make sure you get the guide.

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June 19th, 2013

Stonewalling the Public: FDA’s Secret Approval Process over GE Salmon

By Tim Schwab

In the great debate over genetically engineered (GE) salmon, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has locked the public out of key discussions by failing to disclose critical information related to the still-pending regulatory approval. As we wait to hear if the FDA will approve GE salmon this summer, we continue to scratch our heads at the contradictions that FDA can’t — or won’t — explain.

Since the FDA first publicized its review of GE salmon in 2010, independent sources have uncovered document after document that contradict the agency’s glowing findings that the fish is safe to eat, safe to produce, and a solution for fish farmers.

In an attempt to reconcile the striking differences between what the FDA is telling the public and what independent sources are saying, Food & Water Watch has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the FDA since 2010.

The FDA has been silent, rejecting or sitting on requests for years. Other groups filing FOIAs have been met with the same silence.

Almost exactly one year ago, Food & Water Watch asked the agency for documents related to a major biosecurity breach we discovered at AquaBounty Technologies’ proposed GE-salmon production facility. We found a corporate document from 2008 that said an “unusually severe storm” lead to “lost” GE salmon.

In an effort to understand how FDA failed to discover or disclose this major event, which presents crucial risk-assessment questions related to potential environmentally damaging escapes, we filed a FOIA request, asking the agency for all documents it had related to the “lost” salmon event. Thus far, the FDA has failed to respond.

Read the full article…

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May 31st, 2013

GE Salmon, the Promiscuous Fish—Who Knew? Not the FDA

Working to Ensure Safe and Sustainable SeafoodBy Tim Schwab

New research from Canada shows that genetically engineered (GE) salmon readily breed with a different species of fish: brown trout. This is a major finding, showing that escaped GE salmon could widely disseminate their genes into the ecosystem beyond native Atlantic salmon stocks.

It gets worse. The GE salmon-trout hybrids express “competitive dominance” over other fish in a simulated wild setting, substantially suppressing their growth.

What all this presents is an unambiguous environmental risk: escaped GE salmon may mate with other species of fish in whatever watershed they escape into, producing hyper-competitive hybrids that will outcompete native stocks for resources. The scientists behind the study prominently note that this issue needs to be “explicitly considered when assessing the environmental consequences should transgenic animals escape to nature.”

So, where is the Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency regulating GE salmon, in this discussion? Characteristically silent, hiding from the science, and plowing ahead toward regulatory approval.

FDA hasn’t even surveyed the local watershed where GE salmon are supposed to be grown in Panama. That means we have no idea if brown trout exist in the watershed where GE salmon will be grown initially. It means we have no idea if other species of fish that could hybridize with escaped GE salmon exist there. This will probably be true of all future GE salmon production facilities, which will likely be in developing countries like Panama where there is extremely limited regulatory oversight.

When pressed on this issue by one of its own independent advisors in 2010, the FDA stated that it wasn’t its responsibility to consider the “local environment” where GE salmon will be grown. Is that really the approach that regulators should be taking?

AquaBounty, the company behind GE salmon, responded to the new study in its characteristically cavalier manner, saying, “there appears to be nothing of concern” with the study’s findings. The company says that the hyper-competitive trout-salmon hybrids will be sterile and, hence, of “little ecological threat.” But the hybrids will still have a major environmental impact on native stocks during their lifetime, suppressing growth of native stocks, even if it is true that they are sterile and cannot reproduce.

AquaBounty uses the sterility talking point an awful lot, disseminating the myth that GE salmon also pose no environmental threat because they are sterile. Even FDA openly acknowledges that up to five percent of GE salmon in production will be fertile. So when millions of these fish enter commercial production, this translates into tens of thousands of fertile GE salmon. If any of these fish, fertile or sterile, escape—because of a power outage, a bad storm, a simple employee mistake or theft—we need to understand what the environmental risks are.

The only way to do this is through independent, scientific review, which, increasingly, seems impossible at FDA. Luckily, there are a number of pieces of federal legislation being considered that would require the FDA to meaningfully consult outside expertise in its risk assessment of GE salmon. Tell your member of Congress to stop the approval of GE salmon now.

 

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March 20th, 2013

No Label, No Buy!

Working to Ensure Safe and Sustainable SeafoodWhen it Comes to GE Seafood, Defend Your Power to Choose

By Rich Bindell

At some point today, you’ll probably make a seemingly mundane choice that you make every day, without even thinking about it. Maybe you’ll choose to drink decaffeinated coffee (to avoid caffeine) or pick a movie for your family to watch this weekend (R-rated movies might not be appropriate for your seven year old). That choice likely involves collecting information before making your decision. But what if some of that information wasn’t available? If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves genetically engineered (GE) salmon as the first GE food animal to enter the marketplace, it will likely be without a label, forcing you to either risk buying a genetically engineered salmon or give up salmon completely. Thanks to the Campaign for GE-Free Seafood, consumers can start to look for stores who promise to not to sell GE salmon.

Food & Water Watch joined forces with Friends of the Earth—and a coalition thirty groups-strong—to kick off the Campaign for GE-Free Seafood. Today, we submitted a letter to the nation’s top grocery stores, asking them to honor an important commitment to their customers: promise not to sell GE seafood and make it their company policy to not knowingly purchase or sell GE seafood. Many stores have already agreed to sign-on to this promise, including Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Marsh Supermarkets, Aldi, and PCC Natural Markets!

The Campaign for GE-Free Seafood coalition includes consumer, food safety, fishing, environmental, sustainable agriculture, parent, public health and animal health and welfare organizations, representing millions of members across the nation who demand that GE salmon be labeled so that consumers can identify it and avoid it. Having a GE label is critical for consumers, especially considering that polls show that 91 percent of them do not want the FDA to approve GE salmon.

The FDA has already said that GE salmon would likely not require labeling, so it could be impossible to tell if the salmon we buy at the market is genetically engineered. Hopefully more stores will join this list and help their customers know what they’re buying. And in the meantime, tell the FDA to reject GE salmon.

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January 17th, 2013

Why Catch Shares Can’t Save the Oceans

By Meredith Moore

the fight over fish quotaA recent blog at Mother Jones asks the question, “Can a fish-sharing program save the oceans?” Since the program in question is catch shares, the answer is, “No.” You’re probably asking the next obvious question: why? Catch shares really do look artificially positive until you look at the whole picture.

Catch shares programs privatize our nation’s fisheries, divvying out the privilege of catching fish to a limited number of individuals, and letting them trade, sell, and lease these rights in unregulated, closed markets. In the process, hundreds to thousands of smaller-scale fishermen are cut out of the industry entirely.

What we end up with is a sharecropper system, which was well-described in a Seattle Weekly feature on one of the halibut and sablefish catch shares programs in the North Pacific. This catch shares program, which has been in place since 1995, has devolved into a system where boat captains compete against each other to offer the latest in at-sea entertainment and luxury to the wealthy owners of those catch shares, just so they can get some fraction of the profits for themselves and their crew. Many of those catch shares owners have never baited a hook in their lives.

Read the full article…

What the FDA Isn’t Telling Us About GE Salmon

By Tim Schwab

FDA closer to GE Salmon approval

The FDA took a final step toward approving the first genetically engineered animal for your dinner plate. Are you okay with this decision? If not, click on this image.

In September 2010, the FDA appeared primed to approve AquaBounty’s genetically engineered (GE) salmon, the hormone-enhanced fish that, nevertheless, can’t live up to its fast-growth hype. Trumpeting unprecedented transparency, the FDA released to the public hundreds of pages of the agency’s favorable risk assessment, along with an announcement of a days-away public meeting in Rockville, Maryland. The extremely short timeline seemed designed to limit public participation and independent criticisms of the FDA’s scientific work, as few people could drop everything and rush to Maryland.

On the Friday before Christmas 2012, the agency that protects 80 percent of our food supply gave us an encore performance. On a day when few people are at work and many are making plans for extended vacations, the FDA issued its environmental assessment, a 160-page document that basically regurgitates verbatim the agency’s weak 2010 assessment. This moves AquaBounty’s GE salmon within one step of full approval.

The FDA’s risk assessments are noteworthy, not for what they do tell us, but for what they don’t. Instead of scrutinizing the flawed science, limited data, examples of bias and lingering safety concerns that independent scientists have highlighted, the FDA continues to treat its risk assessment as an exercise in churning out the Frankenstein refrain: GE salmon. Safe. Good.

Read the full article…

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November 27th, 2012

Fish Meat: The Movie

Seafood ChallengesBy Mitch Jones

I recently had a chance to watch the documentary Fish Meat, which explores various ways of farming fish. Fish Navy Films produced the movie and, full-disclosure, they interviewed me earlier this year for their next film, Raising Shrimp.

It is a short film that focuses on production of fish in the Mediterranean and South America, and it highlights many of the concerns we at Food & Water Watch have about farming fish. Farming large carnivorous fish is an inefficient use of smaller fish that have to be harvested in large numbers so they can be turned into fish food. In recent years as much as 90 percent of the catch of these small fish has been used by the aquaculture industry. And we know that soy doesn’t offer much of an alternative.

The film makes clear that open ocean aquaculture is a dirty, unsustainable way to raise fish that not only pollutes local environments, but also puts local fishermen out of work. The filmmakers note that the rise of factory fish farms in Turkey is turning coastal communities that have been fishing communities for centuries (or more) into ecotourism destinations. Ways of life are being displaced and people are losing their livelihood so a dirty form of agribusiness can move into the waters off Turkey’s coast.

It’s not surprising that the filmmakers are more impressed by inland fish farms that raise vegetarian fish. We have long advocated use of land-based Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), closed systems that reuse virtually all of the water initially put into the system. As a result, RAS can reduce the discharge of waste and the need for antibiotics or chemicals used to combat disease and fish and parasite escapes – all serious concerns associated with OOA and pond aquaculture.

Perhaps the best advice from the film comes only in the closing minutes when the filmmakers present a “What You Can Do” graphic that contains one key element: eat domestic seafood. That’s certainly a recommendation we can get behind.

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October 24th, 2012

Catch Shares Ideology is a One-Way Street in the Wrong Direction

the fight over fish quotaBy Meredith Moore

Social media isn’t always as social as we’d like it to be. We recently noticed a blog by Environmental Defense Fund’s Matt Rand about catch shares. We decided to engage EDF in a brief exchange by posting a response to the blog in the comments section. Unfortunately, it looks like EDF disabled the comments section. Is this a sign that they aren’t open to feedback regarding their position on catch shares?

This is actually typical of the conversation about catch shares in the U.S. Rather than engage with fishermen, time and again we see special interests and regulators tell fishermen how much better off they’ll be under catch shares, and ignore fishermen when they say how much they are suffering. In that sense, catch shares is primarily a one-way street, just like the blog from our friends at EDF. But we have good reason to oppose this fishery management catastrophe. So here’s what we would have posted, had the comments section remained open…

Catch shares are a fishery privatization scheme that promises increased economic efficiency but delivers it at the cost of fishermen’s jobs. These programs are inherently intended to reduce the number of fishermen who can access a public resource. Suggesting they are good for fishing families is laughable. Accumulation limits are a stop-gap measure to limit the extreme consolidation that takes place when catch shares programs are implemented. They are absolutely necessary to have in a catch shares program to protect our fishermen and their communities’ well-being, but a better solution is to retain control of the resource in the public sector and administer it fairly, instead of creating private markets that destroy traditional fishing opportunities.

September 28th, 2012

It’s Worth Repeating: Eat Domestic Seafood

By Mitch Jones

Seafood Challenges
It seems every few months we get another report about how hard pressed America’s fishermen are. In April I pointed the troubling signs of increased salmon imports in early 2012. Now reports suggest that China is enjoying a robust year in seafood exports. Individual companies as well as regions within China are reporting double-digit percentage increases in exports. This news of increased pressure from China couldn’t come at a worse time for America’s domestic fishing industry.

Earlier this month Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank declared the Northeast Groundfish Fishery a disaster. On the same day she also declared a commercial fishery failure on Alaska’s Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and in the Cook Inlet because of low Chinook salmon returns. These actions will allow the federal government to offer millions of dollars of relief to the fishermen in these fisheries. But temporary relief isn’t enough. We need to protect America’s fishermen from fishery management programs that fail to protect fish, while putting independent fishermen out of business.

But while we’re fighting this fight here in Washington and in the regional fisheries across the country, it’s important to watch what you buy. No matter where you shop, look for domestic seafood. If it’s salmon, ask for U.S. wild caught. If it’s catfish or tilapia, ask for U.S. farmed. And when in doubt, you can consult our Smart Seafood Guide.

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