Overlooked and underappreciated


Steven Hedlund

Published on
May 10, 2010

It’s one of the more newsworthy bits of seafood-related information published each year. But sexy it’s not.

It’s the Status of U.S. Fisheries — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual report on the health of the nation’s 250 or so fish and shellfish stocks. Released on Monday, this year’s report, a compilation of last year’s figures, is encouraging.

Just good luck finding the report’s results in the mainstream media.

The timing of this year’s report is unfortunate. Coverage of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill’s impact on supplies and especially prices of seafood is absolutely overwhelming, and it’s been 21 days now since the explosion that caused the spill.

Bad timing aside, the stat-heavy report isn’t exactly accessible to the average consumer. But that’s the nature of the report. Basically, it revolves around which stocks are on, or are no longer on, the overfishing and overfished lists.

The good news this year is that four stocks, including Atlantic swordfish, were rebuilt in 2009, and no stocks were added to the overfishing list for the first time since the report’s inception in 1997. But many of the stocks, such as Atlantic scup, are alien to the average consumer, and the difference between “overfishing” and “overfished” is confusing unless put in layman’s terms.

Of course, consumer perception is irrelevant if the report isn’t well publicized. The report’s results do end up on FishWatch, NOAA’s user-friendly Web site featuring information on about 80 U.S.-caught species. However, the agency’s pockets just aren’t deep enough to give the site the publicity it warrants.

Then again, NOAA’s job is to manage fish and shellfish stocks and lay out its findings. The agency isn’t in the business of telling consumers what to eat and what not to eat — we’ll leave that to the environmental NGOs.

The underlying message of this year’s report is that NOAA is closing in on attaining its mandate to end overfishing. (The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires that annual catch limits are set for stocks subject to overfishing by 2010, and for all stocks by 2011.)

Unfortunately, the message is getting lost in the oil slick that’s blanketing the mainstream media’s attention right now.

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