UK Trade Association Opposes CITES Listing for Endangered Reef Fish

Banggai Cardinalfish Cropped

All Photographs taken in the Banggai Islands by Ret Talbot

The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA), a UK entity created to “promote and protect the ornamental aquatic industry” announced its opposition to a CITES listing of the popular marine aquarium fish known as the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni). The meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to CITES, during which the proposal to list the Banggai cardinalfish will be discussed, begins tomorrow in Johannesburg, South Africa. This EU-sponsored attempt to list the Banggai cardinalfish under CITES follows a 2007 failed attempt proposed by the US. Indonesia opposed the 2007 proposal, and they also oppose the current one. The Banggai cardinalfish is endemic to Indonesia.

cop17-page_banner_new-logo

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments that seeks to insure international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival in the wild. The EU proposal to list the Banggai cardinalfish under CITES Appendix II would mean that trade in the species would be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. While the US has listed the Banggai cardinalfish under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), there are currently no restrictions on trade despite largely ineffective grassroots efforts to better manage the fishery in Indonesia, as well as largely ignored Indonesian fishery regulations. Appendix I listings are reserved for animals threatened with extinction and for which trade in that species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

A Troubled Past for the Banggai Cardinalfish

bcf-fishing

Since its re-discovery by the aquarium trade in the mid-1990s, the Banggai cardinalfish rapidly became one of the most popular saltwater aquarium fishes. The species consistently ranks amongst the top 10 most imported marine aquarium fish species to the United States, which is believed to be the largest market country for the trade. The data show the negative effects on wild populations as a direct result of the aquarium trade are significant, leading the US to list the species as “threatened” under the ESA earlier this year. While the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) acknowledged the threat to the species from the US aquarium trade has dropped dramatically, owing to a large aquaculture operation meeting that began meeting a majority of US demand for the species in 2013, the Service remains concerned about the synergistic effects of all threat factors. At this time, the NMFS has not imposed any restrictions on the import, sale or possession of the species in the US, but this may change.

Some critics of the ESA listing have expressed concern about the fact that the listing will do little if anything to curtail international trade. Given the many examples of illegal wildlife trafficking in China, and considering that China is becoming a larger consumer of reef fishes for aquaria, others share concerns that unsustainable fishing for the species will continue and perhaps even increase despite the fact US imports continue to drop. Proponents of a CITES listing say the action could begin to address some of these concerns by controlling international trade through a quota-based system.

OATA’s Opposition to a CITES Listing

oata-logoOATA’s opposition to the listing is based, in part, on concerns of how a CITES listing would affect the aquarium trade in the UK. “If this proposal is successful,” states OATA in a press release, “it will undoubtedly affect our industry through higher import charges and could prevent the import of wild caught Banggai cardinal into the EU.” In addition, OATA claims the proposal to list the Banggai cardinalfish on Appendix II “does not show any likely benefits of a listing.” Although the proposal points to an overall 90 percent decline in abundance of the species in its endemic range from an estimated pre-harvest level, OATA maintains “it is unclear what the main factors for the decline are.”

In its thorough status review of the Banggai cardinalfish, NMFS acknowledges myriad threats to the species, as well as a decline in demand from US markets, but the Service concludes the synergistic effect of all threat factors, including an indisputable decade of dramatic over-utilization for the aquarium trade and ongoing habitat destruction in the species’ extremely limited native range, places the Banggai cardinalfish at a moderate risk of extinction and justifies a listing.

For its part, the CITES Secretariat states:

[T]he supporting statement shows that the species has continued to decline in the past nine years, and questions the effectiveness of the attempts to manage the species nationally. The species remains in demand for the ornamental fish trade, noting that that demand is partially met by captive-bred specimens. Its very restricted range, very low dispersal ability and the ease of depleting a local population with relatively little effort are important vulnerability factors that increase the risk that the species might become eligible for inclusion in Appendix I within a short period of time.

OATA has consistently defended the aquarium trade’s reliance on wild-harvest fishes by claiming that the trade in wild fishes creates economic incentive to conserve. The UK-based trade association has now applied this same argument in their opposition to a CITES listing for the Banggai cardinalfish. “There are other threats to the species such as habitat destruction which most likely are more significant than the trade,” OATA states, “and that can be expected to increase if the trade incentive for protecting the species is lost.” While there are isolated situations where a sustainable aquarium fishery has been shown to be a benefit to conservation, the data show such a scenario is far from the norm in the marine aquarium trade, where the vast majority of fishes originate from two countries about which there is the most concern when it comes to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries.

dried-fish-banggai

In the Banggai Islands, the Banggai cardinalfish is considered a low value fish that is frequently harvested and sold as a secondary source of income for a very limited number of fishers. In some cases, the same fishers harvesting Banggai cardinalfish are also engaged in other activities that are further contributing to the destruction of the species’ habitat. To suggest that regulating the number of fishes traded through a CITES listing would lead to greater habitat degradation and less protection for the species is wholly unsupported.

Finally, OATA opposes a CITES listing of the Banggai cardinalfish because Indonesia does not support the proposal. “Indonesia considers that such a listing will do nothing to support their national management of the species,” says OATA. “We feel it is inappropriate that the European Union should take this approach without the support of the country of origin, particularly when it could unnecessarily affect fishing communities who may not have many other livelihood options.”

Researchers who have studied the fishery have shown time and again that despite numerous efforts to better regulate the fishery, those efforts have largely been ineffective. Informal agreements and national fisheries law have continually been subverted, and both illegal and unsustainable harvest remain a significant concern. Further, there is no evidence to suggest that a large group of fishers make their living exclusively from collecting Banggai cardinalfish. In fact, the opposite has been reported. While it is essential to keep in mind and support local fishers and fishing communities when considering any regulations, the fishery must show signs of moving along a path toward greater sustainably. Despite hard work and admirable grassroots efforts, this has repeatedly been shown not to be the case in the Banggai Islands.

bcf-sort-bowl

While OATA’s opposition to a CITES listing of the Banggai cardinalfish is discouraging, it is hardly surprising. The marine aquarium trade has demonstrated a near pathological unwillingness to address the most pressing issues it faces. While the continued use of cyanide to harvest fishes and the largely uncontrolled importation of non-native species that pose a significant risk to native ecosystems are certainly issues that need immediate attention, even more pressing is addressing trade associations’ consistent opposition to any common sense measures that would demonstrate to the general public, conservation biologists, regulators and others that the trade is willing to reform and put itself on a path to greater sustainability. Only then will the trade have the opportunity to truly realize a vision of being a force for good when it comes to reefs, the species that inhabit them and the adjacent coastal communities.

bone-baru-sunset

Posted in CITES, Endangered Species Act (ESA), Indo-Pacific, Ornamental Fisheries, Overfishing, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#KeepEmWet Isn’t Just for Anglers Anymore

Left: 1861 sketch in The Illustrated London News ; Right : 2016 photograph on High-End Saltwater Fish and Coral Facebook page.

Left: 1861 sketch captioned “Dealers inspecting a Negro slave auction in Virginia” in The Illustrated London News ; Right : 2016 photograph on the High-End Saltwater Fish and Coral Facebook page.

Perhaps it’s the case that people engaging passionately in a hobby–and interacting primarily with other hobbyists–are, at least to a certain extent, tone deaf to the optics of certain practices considered “normal” in that hobby. Consider, for example, the way a non-angler may view an angler’s social media post of a fish held high out of the water, dry fingers in the gills and belly squeezed tight for a photograph. Catch-and-release hook mortality data aside, if that non-angler is inclined to be anti-fishing, the photograph certainly does the angling community no favors whether or not the fish is harmed. In other words, the optics are bad.

In the saltwater aquarium hobby, it is fairly common on social media to see pictures of a particularly striking fish held out of the water or held against the wall of the aquarium for a photograph. In these situations, the aquarist is concerned with showing off the features that make the individual fish unique or particularly desirable, usually in the hopes of fetching a high price for the fish. The buyer, of course, scrutinizes these pictures to assess if the price, which can run into the thousands, is justified. The seller, the buyer and all the lookie loos who like and share the picture on Facebook see all this as “normal.” They certainly don’t view it as reprehensible. Again, however, the way non-aquarists–and especially non-aquarists inclined to be anti-aquarium keeping–view these pictures does the aquarium community no favors whether or not the fish is harmed. Once again the optics are bad.

A classic example of poor fish handling from Montana Matt’s “Top 10 Ways You Shouldn’t hold A Trout” blog entry.

Some may scoff. They may say looking at the optics of these images–and how they may be viewed (and used) by detractors regardless of the effects on the fishes–is just more political correctness in a world full of squeamish people. Others will chastise this blog entry’s opening image for the implicit comparison to slavery–a comparison frequently employed by the vegan movement, as well as groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, and easily co-opted by anti-aquarium activists if these images persist. Keep in mind we’re talking about optics here, and we’re talking about a hobby that is in the midst of a PR crisis.

The data are clear when it comes to angling–#KeepEmWet (i.e., limiting air time, reducing handling and keeping fish away from dry surfaces) reduces the number of fishes that die after being released. Is it the same for aquarium fishes? I know of no peer-reviewed, reputable studies, but I’ve certainly observed supply chain chain practices, including photography and beyond, that fall far short of the aquarium trade’s equivalent of #KeepEmWet best practices, and I wonder how this poor handling in the supply chain from reef to reef tank affects mortality. Speculation aside, I’d argue aquarists need go no farther than the optics of posting, liking and sharing these pictures in the service of sales, especially when a hobby as embattled as saltwater aquarium keeping is concerned.

Holding a marine aquarium fish out of the water for a photograph is generally unnecessary, especially if the purpose is to fetch the highest price. Photographing a fish pressed up against the side of an aquarium, in a container that is too small, has too little water or is clearly overcrowded and stressful to the animal for the purpose of showing off that fish to a potential buyer is a practice aquarists should readily and actively shun. Plus, if one really want to photograph that fish, that person has other options where the fish looks more natural and is less stressed. As fly fishing guide Derek Young (Emerging Rivers Guide Services) wrote in Orvis News last year:

An alternative I’ve been using is the Photarium from the Wild Fish Conservancy in Duvall, Washington. Originally designed as a tool for fish observation and study in the field, and in much smaller sizes, the clear plexiglass box is designed to keep the fish in the water and provide the opportunity for a photograph–without fingers and hands in the way, or the risk of dropping the fish on the boat on bank….. [I]t’s simple: net the fish, fill the box, place the fish in it, and take the photo. The fish doesn’t have to even leave the water. The fish appreciate it, and the images are truer to life and show the fish in a more natural state – gills wet and breathing in the water!

Of course the most reputable retailers of saltwater aquarium fishes do this already as a best practice. Sure it takes longer and requires more skill and forethought, but the end result is better for all concerned.

The best retailers , companies like LiveAquaria/Petco, photograph their fishes in more natural settings as a best practice. (Photo: LiveAquaria)

The best online retailers, companies like LiveAquaria/Petco, photograph their fishes in more natural settings as a best practice. (Photo: LiveAquaria)

So next time you see a picture on Facebook or Twitter of a seller handling a saltwater aquarium fish for a picture, consider the optics of that image, especially for non-aquarists. Then consider not liking or sharing the picture, and perhaps go so far as tagging the image with the hashtag #KeepEmWet, something that has become relatively common in angling circles.

I’m not suggested using the hashtag as a way of shaming the photographer/seller, but instead as a way to start a conversation–as a way to reinforce that aquarists respect the animals they keep. As Young says, “We’ve got a big opportunity…to foster the new energy that social media and sharing of fish photographs…gives us today. So the way we capture those epic shots should advance, too. We have…better cameras, and a better understanding of how fish handling out of the water affects survivability. Getting great fish photos and handling fish better can go hand in hand.”

Quality Marine is a wholesaler of marine aquarium fishes promoting #KeepEmWet best practices through their stunning photography shared on social media. (PHOTO: Quality Marine)

Quality Marine is a wholesaler of marine aquarium fishes promoting #KeepEmWet best practices through their stunning photography shared on social media. (PHOTO: Quality Marine)

There are those who will always be anti-aquarium keeping and anti-angling, and for them, those respective hobbies won’t suddenly be off the hook because hobbyists handle the fishes better. Time and again, however, I hear aquarists say they want to do everything in their power to be good stewards of the animals they keep–animals that, more often than not, are collected on reefs thousands of miles away. Given that a picture is worth a thousand words, #KeepEmWet appears a worthwhile step in the right direction.

Posted in Ornamental Fisheries, Recreational Angling | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Dory’ Bred in Captivity for First Time (Excerpt)

The following is excerpted from my full article on this significant breakthrough in marine ornamental aquaculture published in National Geographic.

These blue tangs at the University of Florida's Tropical Aquaculture Lab in Florida are among the first 27 to be bred in captivity.  PHOTOGRAPH BY TYLER JONES.

These blue tangs at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Lab in Florida are among the first 27 to be bred in captivity.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TYLER JONES.

Breeding the popular blue tang in captivity is an important step toward protecting wild fish and reefs from destructive practices.

For biologist Kevin Barden, blue tangs are an obsession that began when he was five years old and came face-to-face with one at Boston’s New England Aquarium. Now 29, he has played a leading role in cracking the code to successfully culturing the popular species.

Today, the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Lab, in conjunction with Rising Tide Conservation, announced that blue tangs—or Dory, as fans of the Disney movie will know—have been bred in captivity for the first time.

“This breakthrough has the potential to help reduce the overexploitation of the species and continue to address wildlife crime associated with cyanide use in the saltwater aquarium trade,” says biologist Andrew Rhyne, a winner of this year’s Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, sponsored in part by National Geographic, for coming up with a way that allows better monitoring of the marine aquarium trade.

No one knows how many blue tangs are taken from coral reefs across the Indo-Pacific each year for saltwater aquariums. No one knows how much reef is damaged annually by destructive fishing practices—notably the use of cyanide to stun the fish and make them easier to catch—commonly associated with capturing blue tangs. No one knows…

[Continue Reading in National Geographic]

Posted in Aquaculture, Indo-Pacific, IUU Fishing, Ornamental Fisheries | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

National Media Ignores the Data in Favor of Riding ‘Bluefish’ Wave

Scientists say Washington Post article on 'Finding Dory' should be hashtagged #FindingJournalism based on its poor reporting.

Scientists say Washington Post article on ‘Finding Dory’ should be hashtagged #FindingJournalism based on its poor reporting.

You’ve heard that the sequel to ‘Finding Nemo’ is coming out, correct? If so, you’ve probably also heard the new movie is called ‘Finding Dory’ and features the blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. To the best of my knowledge, these things are true. But likely much of the rest of what you’ve heard in the media about the movie and its potential effects on blue tang is, at best, poorly sourced speculation and, at worst, outright untruths in support of poorly conceived anti-aquarium trade campaigns.

If you’re familiar with my writing, you know I have written about marine aquarium fisheries and their potential to create economic incentive to fish sustainably and even conserve reefs and reef species. You also know I have covered the impediments to the aquarium trade realizing that potential–things like continued destructive fishing practices such as cyanide use, serious concerns about non-native species introductions and even human rights abuses in aquarium supply chains. When I cover aquarium trade issues, as I do with all my fisheries reporting, I do so based on firsthand research and independently verifiable data whenever possible. That’s what journalists do.

Or at least it’s what they’re supposed to do.

Journalists Riding the Bluefish Wave

As the release of ‘Finding Dory’ grows closer, it’s easier and easier to slot a blue tang story into the mainstream media news cycle, and many journalists have taken advantage of this in recent weeks. Unfortunately, many of those journalists have not done what they are supposed to do–research and report. Instead, many of these journalists have been caught up in “the Bluefish wave,” (tip of the hat to the documentary ‘Blackfish’) and have become mouthpieces for anti-aquarium trade campaigns that ignore, misrepresent or flat out manufacture data that support their ends.

Each day for the past several weeks, I wake up to a new email–sometimes several–pointing me to another story about the potential effects of ‘Finding Dory’ on wild populations of blue tang. My readers and people who have heard me speak over the last year know that I have concerns about the movie and its effects on wild blue tang populations. I have been vocal about those concerns, but these articles people email me are often so over the top and inaccurate that I hardly know how to respond.

So, for the most part, I have not responded.

One reason I have not responded–attempted to share accurate data and set the record straight in the face of such horrendous reporting–is the very simple fact that defending the aquarium trade against inaccurate accusations and bad press is not my job as a journalist. While it offends me that journalists are willing to be so loose with the data and so unprofessional in their reporting, I have other important stories on which I’m working concerning other fisheries (what the heck is going on the state of Maine Atlantic halibut fishery?!).

The other reason I have been reticent to engage beyond publishing my concerns about the blue tang fishery is that I don’t see the aquarium trade addressing the issues that threaten it. Instead, I see a largely reactionary trade that has gotten very good at circling the wagons–so good, in fact, that it has become the trade’s de facto stance. When I look to other fisheries, take global seafood for example, I often see an industry addressing issues head-on. I see public-private partnerships. I see industry funding science and seeking data. I see engagement with NGOs. I see industry trade associations such as National Fisheries Institute (NFI), which represents more than 70% of US seafood businesses, talk frankly and publicly about the issues. Don’t get me wrong, there are still lots of issues with seafood, but there is also a lot of dialog, collaboration and, yes, progress.

#FindingJournalism – Responding to the Washington Post

Even though I have not engaged directly, I am bugged by this cascade of poorly written articles espousing data I know to be inaccurate. That’s why I was so pleased to read what I thought was an important letter to the editor of the Washington Post by Roger Williams University’s Dr. Andrew Rhyne, a scientist on whose work I have reported in the past. The letter was in response to a 18 May article titled ‘Finding Nemo’ wasn’t so entertaining for real clownfish. Now conservationists worry about ‘Finding Dory’, which is amongst the worst of the ‘Finding Dory’ media pieces. Dr. Rhyne had confidentially shared the letter with several people he thought might find it interesting before it was published in the Post.

Unfortunately the Post elected not to publish Dr. Rhyne’s letter, citing a policy that they don’t publish letters in response to pieces published exclusively on their website. So I asked Dr. Rhyne if I could publish it.

The May 18th Morning Mix piece on ‘Finding Nemo’ wasn’t worthy of a national newspaper. Scientist do worry a bit about ‘Finding Dory,’ and some advocate to “leave fish in the ocean, where they belong.” However, Mr. Andrews’ story is full of inaccuracies. Those that actually study the aquarium trade are concerned about over collection for some species. After extensive study, however, the reality is that clownfish and specifically ‘Nemo’ has little to worry about with respect to the aquarium trade. Clownfish occur over very wide geographic areas and they have been reared in captivity since the 1960s. They are produced in captivity in excess of a million fish per year and captive bred clownfish supply the majority of the trade. We have seen a decline in wild collection since the early 2000s.

Much of Mr. Andrews’ story comes from a press release and fund raising website of biologists in Australia (https://www.uq.edu.au/…/world-found-nemo-can-we-save-him). If Mr. Andrews were to have fact checked their claims he would have come to a very different conclusion. The trade in reef fish has risks but also benefits both to the exporting (rural economies, employment) and the importing (teaching basic science to children, a physical link to remote ecosystems) countries and this is the nuance called for by this story. The reiteration of a simplistic message in a press release does a disservice to better understanding how we add value to reef-side economies in this era of onslaught from massive impacts such as global climate change.

As Dr. Rhyne says, this spate of poorly reported ‘Finding Dory’ media pieces threatens to distract from the real issues. These articles set up an us-versus-them mentality and polarize complex issues where we, as journalists, must deal in nuance. When I spoke with Dr. Rhyne about this, he jokingly said we need to use both the hashtags #FindingDory and #FindingJournalism.

I couldn’t agree more.

 

Posted in Aquaculture, Indo-Pacific, Ornamental Fisheries | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seafood Industry Must Respond to “Immense” Pressures – SENA16

I think the pressures that that this industry is undergoing are immense…. You’ve got a situation in which demand for this product–for seafood–is growing. The stocks of this product are at risk. You’ve got a very socially aware and picky consumer. And the nature of the product and the nature of the supply chain is such that it is globalized and dispersed and outside of easy oversight by government and those who are well intentioned regulators. And the nature of much of the work in this industry is low skill and high risk. So there’s a lot of exposure here.

-Kent Greenfield, Professor of Law and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College Law School during SENA16 Keynote Address

The Seafood Expo North America (SENA16) kicked off with a keynote presentation from Professor of Law Kent Greenfield that firmly grounded this year’s conference in questions around corporate social responsibility. As I blogged yesterday, the idea of responsibility–corporate, societal and personal–is my own focus for my SENA16 coverage, so I found Greenfield’s keynote particularly engaging.

When addressing the problems the seafood industry faces, Greenfield suggested the industry has a choice. It can maintain the status quo, which he said could perhaps work for a period of years before, essentially, imploding on itself (my words), or it can act collectively to address challenges on the resources front, the labor front and the consumer front.

Greenfield challenged some traditional notions of corporate social responsibility, saying that a business’ social responsibility should be to sustain the business over the long term. Corporate social responsibility is not, at least ostensibly, about charity, conservation or pet projects, although these things may certainly be a natural byproduct of a successful business. Put another way, it is not a seafood company’s job to save the oceans, but a successful seafood business will take care of the resource as part of a fundamental business management tool.

Greenfield told the audience the phrase “sustainable stakeholder governance” may be a better, more accurate term than corporate social responsibility. To achieve corporate social responsibility, Greenfield said, a business must focus squarely on the resource, the employees and the customers.

Kent Greenfield, Professor of Law and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College Law School, delivered SENA16's keynote address.

Kent Greenfield, Professor of Law and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College Law School, delivered SENA16’s keynote address.

While the seafood industry is not Greenfield’s area of expertise, he recognizes many of the risks and exposures the industry faces. At a time when human rights abuses in seafood supply chains have garnered so much attention, it’s relevant that Greenfield was instrumental in developing the theory of the cases brought against Unocal Corporation for alleged human rights violations committed by the company in Burma and against Hershey Corporation for the alleged use of child labor in West Africa. Greenfield is considered one of the world’s leading legal experts in the field of corporate accountability and the analysis of the role of corporations in society.

Greenfield’s take-home message to the seafood industry during his keynote address at SENA16 was that individual business need to focus on sustainable stakeholder governance and then individual businesses need to work together. Thinking about seafood businesses as having a primarily ethical or altruistic obligation to society gets it wrong, he argued.

The seafood industry’s biggest challenges today arise in the spheres of the environment, consumer safety and health, and human and worker rights. At SENA16, we see all of these issues discussed, and I suspect we will increasingly hear “traceability” jump to the forefront as a dominant topic, As the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) Tejas Bhatt put it in another session today, “traceability is a foundation for so many of the issues in the seafood industry…. Traceability is not the answer; it is the first step to collecting data to understand the problem.” Bhatt is the Director for the Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

According to show organizers, more than 1,260 companies from 50 countries are exhibiting at SENA16, making this the largest Seafood Expo North America in the show’s 36-year history. The conference program, which accompanies the show, will feature more than 20 educational sessions presented by seafood industry experts and thought leaders representing all segments of the seafood supply chain. The conference is divided into three concurrently running tracks: Seafood Sustainability, Seafood Business & Marketplace and Seafood Food Safety & Compliance/Policy. Stay tuned for more coverage from me at www.GoodCatchBlog.com, on Facebook and, live from the event, on Twitter (Twitter.com/RetTalbot) using #SENA16.

Posted in Fishing Industry, Thought Leader | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SENA16 through the Lens of Corporate, Social & Personal Responsibility

Seafood Expo North America 2015

Seafood Expo North America 2015

The Seafood Expo North America (SENA) is North America’s largest seafood show, bringing exhibitors from more than 40 countries to Boston for three days of meeting, greeting and, most importantly, selling to North American buyers of seafood and seafood-related products. Concurrent with the show on the exhibit floor, SENA hosts a conference addressing some of the most important and timely issues in the seafood industry. As a freelance journalist who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability, the conference is usually my focus when covering SENA, and this year will be no different. While last year much of my focus was on the role of aquaculture in the future of food security, this year I’m choosing to look at responsibility.

Responsibility is such a ubiquitous word today that its true meaning and import is often lost, especially in discussions of corporations, society and individuals. When it comes to seafood, however, corporate responsibility, social responsibility and personal responsibility are topics that are more important than ever and ones that cannot afford to get lost in the noise of seafood branding and marketing. When it comes to seafood corporations acting responsibly, it needs to be more than a published goal achieved. When it comes to society acting responsibly, it needs to be more than a rubber stamp. And when it comes to individuals acting responsibility, it needs to be more than lip service.

Those interested in seeing a more responsible seafood industry from fish to fork need to ask—and keep asking—some central questions. Are seafood companies that claim they have achieved their sustainability goals actively taking responsibility for becoming more sustainable? Are social campaigns that greenlight a seafood product because it meets certain criteria really taking responsibility for creating a more responsible industry? Are individuals that download a sustainable seafood app actually taking responsibility for supporting a truly sustainable seafood industry that can play a leading role in the future of global food security? These are big questions, but they are ones that are more important than ever given the current disposition of the seafood industry and the challenges it faces.

Today more than 90 percent of seafood consumed by Americans is imported, a fact that has major implications for food safety, a fact about which Americans are becoming increasingly cognizant. To truly be responsible, however, aren’t the socio-economic aspects of bringing an imported seafood product to market equally important? While it’s critical to be able to trace an individual seafood product back to a fishery or aquaculture facility that actively mitigates human health risks, isn’t it equally important from a responsibility standpoint to insure that those providing the labor to bring that product to market are being treated equitably?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published new dietary guidelines that encourage American to eat more seafood. The US domestic fishing industry would like to be able to meet at least some of what all SENA16 attendees hope will be an increased demand for seafood products. As National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Regional Administrator John Bullard told attendees of the Maine Fishermen’s Forum last week, consumers should “choose to eat fish that are managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act because these are the toughest rules in the world.” In short, consumers should choose seafood harvested in the US because they can have the most confidence in it. But how will US harvested seafood fare in a global market where the seafood industry and consumers put a premium on price in an ever-escalating race to the bottom? Quality seafood needs to be accessible to consumers, but seafood products that earn pennies on the dollar and only create profits when handled in the type of volume that too often encourage irresponsible behavior at myriad points along the supply chain undercut the ability of US seafood producers to compete on a global scale.

The conference at SENA16 will address many of these topics by bringing some of the industry’s thought leaders together to discuss the big issues behind the slogans, promises and marketing campaigns on the show floor. I look forward to sharing with you what I hear over the next three days on Twitter (Twitter.com/RetTalbot), on Facebook (Facebook.com/GoodCatchBlog) and here at www.GoodCatchBlog.com. I’m also looking forward to bringing you more comprehensive coverage on certain aspects of the show in an upcoming article at Mongabay.com. As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Touting US Seafood in Maine & Boston

At the Maine Fishermen’s Forum, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Regional Administrator for the Greater Atlantic Regional Office John Bullard encouraged consumers to eat US-harvested seafood. “Whenever I get a chance,” Bullard told the audience at an open forum Friday, “I urge consumers to ask where the fish they’re buying or eating come from, and people should choose to eat fish that are managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act because these are the toughest rules in the world.”

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in the United States.

NMFS reports that up to 90 percent (the actual number is likely higher) of seafood consumed in the United States is imported, which is a concern given the amount of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in many parts of the world. As a recent major arrest of a New Bedford, Massachusetts fishing industry mogul shows, US fisheries are not immune to abuse, but Bullard maintained Friday that US “fishermen operate under the best management system in the world” with “the toughest rules.”

Tomorrow I’ll make the drive to Boston for the Seafood Expo North America (SENA16), where more than 1,000 exhibitors from over 40 countries will be introducing and selling nearly every type of fish, seafood, and seafood-related product or service to US buyers. It’s always a stark contrast traveling from the Maine Fishermen’s Forum to SENA given that the former event is so regionally focussed, while the latter event is about global markets.

While Bullard’s endorsement of US seafood played well to an audience of New England fishing industry advocates (even if many were still “mad as heck” at him over management decisions), it is likely we will hear National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials in Boston also touting US seafood and the US’s influence on fisheries worldwide. In the Administration’s own words, NOAA is committed to “using all the tools at its disposal to ensure a level playing field for US fishermen, consumer confidence in safe and legal seafood, and sustainable fisheries management.”

 

I invite you to follow my coverage of SENA16 here at http://www.GoodCatchBlog.com, on Twitter (where I will use “#SENA16”) and on The Good Catch Blog Facebook page. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (Twitter.com/RetTalbot), through Facebook or by commenting here on the blog.

See you in/from Boston!

Posted in IUU Fishing, Maine Fisheries, Massachusetts, Northeast Fisheries | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment