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Blog Posts: Fishing

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.

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.

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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.

September 5th, 2012

Catch Shares = Consolidation of the Seafood Industry

Why Consumers Should Care About Fishing Quota

By Rich Bindell

We talk all the time about how our food system suffers from mass consolidation. In the meat and poultry industries, just a handful of companies control the majority of the market. Well, the same thing is happening in the seafood industry. In New Bedford, Mass., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging federal catch share programs on the East Coast. Depending upon the outcome of this case, it’s either get big or get out for our nation’s fishermen, which should explain why so many of them are outraged about the state of their livelihoods.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pushes a fishery management program called catch shares, which doles out allocations of fish, giving preference to large-scale fishing operations over smaller ones. This scheme has crushed independent fishermen, as well as the coastal communities they support. Catch shares amount to an all-out attack on America’s fishermen and threaten the existence of fish as a shared public resource.

While often misleadingly touted as the solution to over-fishing, catch shares actually divvy up our nation’s fishery resources for exclusive use by the biggest and fastest fishing operations and then allow corporations and banks to buy and sell these “shares” for profit. This turns the opportunity to go fishing into a commodity. Fishermen have to buy shares before being able to head out for a day’s work catching fish for our tables.

But, don’t take our word for it; just listen to the fishermen. Food & Water Watch produced a video to give some of our nation’s fishermen a chance to express their opinions about catch shares. 

As has happened with family farms on land, the added costs push smaller-scale fishermen out of business and consolidate the industry, paving the way for industrial fishing methods that can destroy sensitive ocean habitats.

Why should consumers care about catch shares? If we don’t, we’ll pay increasingly more for lower quality fish, and we’ll allow large-scale fishing operations to consolidate the seafood industry. In doing so, we’ll put smaller, independent fishing operations out of business.


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May 31st, 2012

Economists are not Fishermen

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Give an economist a fishery, and he’ll eat all the fishermen.

Economists should not fishBy Meredith Moore 

A recent piece for The Standard-Times in New Bedford, Massachusetts, glowingly describes how the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a long time champion of catch shares fisheries management, is providing some New England fishermen with business consultants and economic modeling in order to help them survive the transition to catch shares. The article fails to recognize that this sort of extraordinary intervention to keep fishermen from going out of business should never be required in the first place.

At Food & Water Watch, we talk a lot about the dangerous impulse to degrade our natural resources by selling, trading and speculating on them in the market. This exploitation of our natural resources threatens our basic access to food, water and fish, and jeopardizes the progress we have made cleaning up and preventing pollution.

Catch shares are one of these privatization schemes. These programs create markets for trading access to fish, and are often economically devastating to traditional, small-scale fishermen and the communities that depend upon them. In New England, just one year of catch shares management has caused significant job loss, industry consolidation, and hardship.

It shouldn’t require a degree in economics to catch fish. But under catch shares, our fishermen are forced to buy access to fish from the private individuals who control it. Buying at the wrong time in this shadowy stock market can mean bankruptcy, particularly for smaller scale fishermen.

Our fishermen have generations of experience in their business, but now the rules have changed completely. Under catch shares, our fish are going to be caught by the best economists, not the best fishermen.

We can’t patch over the fundamental flaws of catch shares by importing the same methods and values that have turned our financial markets into such a disaster. Catch shares, and resource commodification in general, only create more problems than they solve. We shouldn’t be gambling with the livelihoods of our fishermen and the sustainability of our fisheries to exploit a public resource for private profit. Fishing isn’t an economic trend or school of thought; it’s an important job that provides food for consumers.

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May 17th, 2012

Catch Shares Are The Wrong Kind of Regulation

By Meredith Moore

Read the full report

Fish, Inc.: The Privatization of U.S. Fisheries Through Catch Share Programs

A recent editorial by the New York Times attributed the successful rebuilding of six fish stocks to a management scheme called catch shares. Putting aside the fact that only three of those stocks are under a catch share, the entire comparison is flawed.

The Times criticizes republicans in Congress and their fishermen allies for hating the environment. “Add fish and oceans to the long list of environmental issues that House Republicans do not much care about,” opens the piece. But equating catch shares to any other environmental issue overlooks the larger point: catch shares are a way of managing fishermen, not fish.

Fish sustainability is guaranteed by setting scientifically-based limits on the total number of fish that can be caught each year. These are called annual catch limits, and are mandated under our nation’s key fishing law. The United States is leading the way in setting and enforcing these limits, and the hard work is paying off as more and more fisheries recover. This is the sort of regulation our oceans need—not catch shares.

Catch shares, currently being pushed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are a way of distributing portions of that total catch to individual fishermen, in a way that is often grossly unfair. Catch shares cause significant unemployment and financial hardship among our nation’s traditional small fishermen and their communities. Since catch shares always come packaged with an annual catch limit, the gains made setting sustainable limits are often attributed to catch shares management. But catch limits and catch shares are not the same thing.

Contrary to what the Times editorial board thinks, Congress isn’t trying to hurt fish; they’re trying to stop NOAA from hurting fishermen.

April 23rd, 2012

Delicious Salmon: Farmed Cheaply, Imported Daily, and Rarely Inspected


By Mitch Jones

Ah… there’s nothing like fresh, domestic fish, especially salmon. Too bad most of the salmon that we consume here in the U.S. isn’t fresh or domestic. A new report out this month announces that U.S. imports of salmon were up 22.8% in January and February of this year versus the first two months of 2011. This isn’t surprising, but it’s really unfortunate, especially for America’s fisheries. Each year the U.S. hands over about 85% of our domestic seafood market to imports, while we export a smaller amount of high quality, domestic wild-caught seafood. Yep, that’s right: we import and eat the cheap, farmed stuff while we ship out the good stuff. This is insane and it means our fishermen are being undercut by cheap imports.

Another recent report highlights this. Gunnar Knapp, an economist at the University of Alaska – Anchorage, points out that the price of farmed salmon is falling. He notes that the Chilean farmed salmon industry is rebounding, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the import report notes a 117% increase in fresh Chilean fillets and an 81.7% increase in frozen Chilean fillets imported in to the U.S. Other factors paly a part in this: the Chilean aquaculture industry, for example, is just recovering from a major problem with illness in their fish. But this means more farmed, imported salmon is available on the market.

Sadly, if we know anything at all about our seafood imports, we should know that only two percent of it is inspected. Considering much of the seafood we import is coming from nations that have food safety standards much lower than ours, this can be disconcerting. We also know there are myriad problems associated with fish farmed in the open ocean, even here in the United States.

So, what can seafood lovers do to avoid a bad catch? The simplest step you can take to combat these seafood woes is to make sure you buy wild-caught, domestic seafood.

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March 23rd, 2012

Grist Needs to Dig Deeper on Industrial Fish Farms

By Mitch Jones

Today, our friends over at Grist published a story about the attempt to bring open ocean aquaculture, that is, industrial fish farms, to U.S. territorial waters. The story is based on a recent press release from Kampachi Farms trumpeting their recent attempts to demonstrate the viability of drifting cages in the open ocean.

Unfortunately the story leaves out many of the questions that surround this project…

First, while the story says the purpose of the Velella Project was to show that the cages could operate in open waters, the cages have been seen only four miles off the coast and have attracted wild species that would normally be fished. The presence of these cages will likely have a negative impact on local fishermen’s ability to catch fish, not only because they attract wild fish, but also because of the harm they could cause to the local marine environment.

Second, fish escapes and equipment loss can also reap havoc on the environment immediately surrounding fish farms. In the summer of 2011, Kona Blue Water Farms reported that they lost two of their empty net pens while towing them out to sea, as the Grist story mentions. What is left unsaid is that the whereabouts of one of these cages is unknown. Attempts to sink it failed and it may still be floating at or just below the surface of the water creating a potential hazard for shipping activity. No environmental study of the impacts has been conducted on the sinking of the second cage.

Third, despite initial claims that the project would produce 2,000 fish at 8,000 pounds total, the company’s release is completely silent on how much fish was produced, leading us to question how much of a success it actually was. The public has a right to know all the facts. After all, the project was partly funded with U.S. tax dollars: $500,000 from the National Science Foundation and $242,889 from National Marine Fisheries Service.

Finally, if this project was a much of a success as the company claims, and is reported in this story, how come the next phase of the project will use anchored cages? If the project successfully proved the viability of drifting cages, why won’t the cages be drifting any longer? And, if the next round of cages are anchored, what does this mean for the supposed environmental benefits of having the cages drift? Surely anchored cages will not lead to the wide dispersal of fish waste promised by this project.

Instead of providing a solution, the Velella Project raises serious problems with the concept of open ocean aquaculture. To learn more about the decade-plus track record of setbacks and failures in open ocean aquaculture read our report Fishy Farms.

January 25th, 2012

Candy Catch Shares and Baby Fishermen

Fish PinataBy James Mitchell

It seems like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) can’t get enough of belittling our nation’s fishermen. In a recent Seattle Weekly blog entitled, “New Study Sounds Rare Optimistic Note in Sustainable Seafood Conversation,” an EDF staffer compared “fishing management strategies to a parent’s handling of the situation that unfolds after a piñata’s broken at a child’s birthday party,” further adding that traditional fisheries management (focusing on rules that regulate boat size, gear type, and calendar date), “is analogous to a parent trying to slow a candy rush by insisting each child only use one hand.”

In EDF’s piñata candy analogy, our fishermen are compared to greedy candy-hungry children, and the federal government is portrayed as, not merely paternalistic, but actually the parents of these little children. This is coming from the same group whose west coast vice president famously described fishermen as “unskilled, unprofessional,” and prone to “high drug use,” at a conference to woo private investors into a scheme to privatize our fisheries (Page 7).

So what’s the purported solution to solve the crisis of the split piñata?  Just like at the investor conference: privatizing our nation’s fisheries with catch shares.  As EDF puts it, “You can each get 10 pieces of candy. You have to stay within your limit or find someone willing to give you [their] candy.  Go after sugary candy, go after chocolate candy, go after whatever you like.”

Apart from being condescending, this analogy is overly simplistic and completely inaccurate.  If these kids were under a “candy catch shares” regime, they would soon come to a rude awakening.  

First, they would discover that not every kid is given the same 10 pieces, because in the real world, not every kid is treated equally. Some kids get preference because of who their parents are, because they’re popular, etc. Next, they would discover that they are not allowed to go after whatever candy they like—they have to pick the same kind of candy every year because the quota is species – er, candy-type specific. That means if their candy type isn’t even in the piñata that year, they don’t get any candy. Finally, the “smaller” children would soon witness how the big bullies acquire the bulk of the candy by teaming up on the little ones to force them out of the room.

As the icing on the birthday cake, the parents might even ask one of the bigger children how the piñata party went, to which he would cheerfully reply in chocolate-stained teeth, “Great!  Let’s have another!”

The list of flaws with the candy analogy goes on, but one thing remains clear.  Candy catch shares don’t work, and neither do real-life catch shares on our nation’s fisheries.

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October 6th, 2011

Dear Congress, While you Were out…

Factory Fish Farming

The federal government did not have the authority to grant Kona Blue a permit for offshore aquaculture, and they failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of Kona Blue’s offshore aquaculture operations as required under federal law.

While members of Congress were busy dealing with the debt crisis and taking their summer break, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was moving full speed ahead in opening up our federal waters to factory fish farming.

Back in July, the National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS) awarded the first permit for a commercial open ocean fish farm in federal waters to Kona Blue Water Farms Inc. The company is currently towing a cage full of Kona Kampachi in eddies off of the Western coast of Hawaii Island, Hawaii.

Food & Water Watch along with KAHEA, The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, filed a lawsuit against NOAA, alleging that the federal government lacked the authority to grant the permit and failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of Kona Blue’s offshore aquaculture operations as required under federal law.

A bill introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK) to stop the Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior from permitting factory fish farms is needed more than even to stop such reckless permitting.

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter submitted an op-ed to The Hill’s Congress Blog calling on Congress to weigh in on the factory farm issue. We are re-posting it here… Read the full article…

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