Feel-good fish

By

Jessica Hathaway

Published on
May 25, 2012

This week Ray and Ulrike Hilborn (authors of the book “Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know”) wrote an editorial for the New York Times that quite eloquently cleared up so much of the confusion consumers face when pondering what fish to buy and what traffic-light list to follow.

The lists proffered by well-meaning environmental and other advocacy groups merely serve to make consumers feel better about their choices. But they have no bearing on the management process in this country. Unfortunately (among other problems), the data on which the lists are based are often quickly outdated. U.S. fishery management is a process in permanent flux. Fish stocks fluctuate naturally and based on a multitude of human factors, and the regional management councils (as well as state and federal management entities) are constantly shifting their tactics to make the most of healthy species and recover subpar stocks.??

But, as the Hilborns point out, no part of U.S. management is influenced by market forces. The value of a fish does not determine how its quotas are set in this country. So while consumers might be well advised to avoid species that are farmed or overfished in other parts of the world, they can rely on American fishermen to land only healthy portions of fish populations in their local markets.??

Consumers would be better off learning how to identify and purchase local or other favorite fish species. Consumer education could make great strides toward curbing fish fraud. Success in that realm would reward both consumers and fishermen.

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