Friday,21 October,2011 13:22:41
Canada's federal government held public hearings on the decline of the Fraser River sockeye late this summer, including three days that focused on fish-borne disease.
The official word from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was that there's no hard evidence that farmed fish is affecting the decline of wild fish. (And that includes the long-anticipated testimony of Kristi Miller, a genetics researcher whose article in the magazine Science suggested an unidentified virus could be killing Fraser River salmon.)
The DFO maintains that line even today in the face of a possible outbreak of infectious anemia on wild sockeye.
Even in this country, NOAA is promoting the expansion of — and funding for — finish aquaculture with a National Aquaculture Policy. Even the FDA is pushing to approve genetically modified salmon with very little concern over possible risks to wild stocks.
The good news is U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich have proposed an amendment to a federal agricultural appropriations bill that would kick start an emergency effort to research the virus and its threat to species, wild or farmed.
I'm not opposed to aquaculture altogether. If you can replicate a wild species' habitat (like many bivalve growers the world over do), or simply encourage it to flourish again (in the case of hatchery salmon), then your chances of upsetting the natural balance will naturally be reduced.
But farming an anadromous fish — even in open-ocean pens — is never going to come close to mirroring a wild habitat. A salt water bath is not the same thing as an ocean swim.
Commercial fishermen are famous for complaining about the precautionary principle. They'd have less to complain about if their wild stocks were not subjected to possible outbreaks from fish farms that are clearly well supported by the Canadian government. Where is the precautionary principle when research has proven the negative effects of farmed populations on wild stocks?
Here's the sweet spot: This week Canada's federal government announced that it's slashing the DFO research budget by nearly USD 57 million next year.
It's time to take a hard look at aquaculture. It is not wholly to blame for damages to wild species, so why not accept what damage it has done and do our best to move forward from there?
Eat your tacos
Monday,17 October,2011 13:16:38
This week the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council met for three days in Galloway Township, N.J., during which time they voted to recommend a big increase in the spiny dogfish quota. If NMFS approves the recommendation, East Coast fleets will see a boost of 78.5 percent from 20 million pounds this year to 35.7 million pounds; trip limits will also increase from 3,000 to 4,000 pounds.
For years fishermen have been testifying that spiny dogfish are voracious eaters of other important commercial species, like fluke, butterfish and weakfish.
Personally, I'd rather eat flounder than dogfish tacos. But I'll make dogs a regular part of my family's menu because it simply makes me feel good to pay fishermen to thin the herd.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for the public comment period on this rule — and send me your favorite dogfish recipe while you're at it.
Better NOAA constituents
Monday,10 October,2011 09:16:27
Many Massachusetts politicians had strong reactions to NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco's testimony last week at a federal hearing in Boston.
During the testimony, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) chastised Lubchenco for apparently not answering questions directed at her as she repeatedly leaned over to consult with NMFS director Eric Schwaab.
New Bedford, Mass., Mayor Scott Lang has called again for President Obama to replace her as NOAA administrator. Gloucester, Mass., Mayor Carolyn Kirk posted a YouTube appeal for Lubchenco to meet with representatives of the city's fishing and port interests.
In March 2010, Lubchenco visited Gloucester and expressed support for the local and national fishing industry.
But Lubchenco's testimony that catch shares are working is in direct contradiction to her professed support of the fishing industry. NOAA's line, as Lubchenco testified, is that an increase in revenue means catch shares are working for fishermen as well as the fish stocks. However, last year Gloucester lost nearly 20 percent of its fleet to the regulatory restrictions of the catch shares program; overall, the New England industry lost hundreds of crew positions, and 20 percent of the fleet took in 80 percent of the revenue.
Simply put, catch shares are not working unless the fishermen and port infrastructure are operating.
Fishery management ought to seek a balance between keeping already reduced fleets afloat and maintaining sustainable populations of commercial species. Sacrificing one for the other simply makes no sense. It is not an act of attrition; it's an exercise in futility.
New England's groundfishermen have made significant headway by keeping their heads held high and their voices aloft. Permit banks, quota caps and port infrastructure are on the federal radar because fishermen have been vocal and their representatives have spread the word.
Calling for Lubchenco's ouster may be cathartic, but it will not solve the problems the New England fleets face. Success lies at the end of the long, slow march toward transparency at NOAA.