Hardly the ‘dirtiest’ fisheries


Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
July 15, 2014

As environmental activist groups go, Oceana is one of the NGOs that I’ve felt usually gets things right, and I read with interest about the group’s latest report on bycatch in American fisheries which came out back in March.

Oceana is known for calling attention to important issues, such as mislabeling and traceability, and I have no problem with the group pointing to issues with bycatch, but fallout that led to Oceana issuing a follow-up statement this week reminds us that sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it that really bothers people.

When the March report came out, Oceana described it as a list of the nine “dirtiest fisheries in the United States.” Technically, the report’s title is “Wasted Catch: Unsolved Problems in U.S. Fisheries,” but since that’s not very provocative, I think most people in the industry remember the “dirtiest” distinction, and that’s a shame.

The report noted that bycatch makes up about 20 percent of what American fishermen pull in every year, and the nine fisheries in the report are responsible for more than 50 percent of the reported bycatch in the United States every year.

The numbers at a glance appear to be accurate, but negative comments from the Council Coordination Committee (CCC) representing the eight United States regional fishery management councils prompted Oceana to issue a statement this week defending its report as accurate and based on current government data.

The reaction from the CCC is predictable and understandable, but I suggest it might not have been so harsh if Oceana hadn’t labeled the fisheries the “dirtiest” in the United States in the first place. The unfair distinction suggests that the fisheries are deliberately trying to harm innocent and protected species, and that there’s a lot more wrong with said fisheries than bycatch problems.

That said, there’s always more than can be done to combat bycatch; net and longline gear technology is improving every day to prevent catching sea turtles, sharks and non-target species such as halibut and cod. Further, the industry can always do more to study where it fishes.

Oceana seems to agree with all of these ideas, and has said so in its statements. I get why it used such a provocative distinction — what better way to get the industry’s attention than to hit it between the eyes with a board. Still, the industry doesn’t want to waste time and effort catching the wrong thing either, and focusing on offering constructive advice might in the long run get the industry to do more than slinging mud in its eye.

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