Posts Tagged ‘Marine Stewardship Council’

Bottom-Trawling Still Badly Regulated

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Is there any more damaging fishing method than bottom-trawling – dragging a heavy net along the seabed? Well, probably dynamiting and poisoning reefs are worse, but at least those methods have been banned.

A demersal or bottom-trawler drags a large net indiscriminately along the bottom seascape (saveourseas.org)

A demersal or bottom-trawler drags a large net indiscriminately along the bottom seascape (saveourseas.org)

Even in the 1800s trawlers were aware that they were causing huge fish declines. Bottom-trawling spread around Britain from the 1820s, and as fish declined in numbers the inshore trawlers had to travel greater distances and increase their gear size to maintain their catch. By the 1880s they were calling for closing territorial waters to protect nursery and spawning grounds. However, the Royal Commission reports of 1866 and 1887 either disbelieved the fishermen, or simply failed to recommend restrictions. A model for the future.

Trawlers off the coast of Louisiana leave little of the bottom substrate untrawled (Wikipedia.org)

Trawlers off the coast of Louisiana leave little of the bottom substrate untrawled (Wikipedia.org)

Bottom trawling of course spread around the world, leaving no suitable coast untouched. As inshore fisheries declined and EEZ limits extended to 200 miles, off-shore and deeper-water trawling continued to grow. When sea mounts were discovered and mapped, trawlers extended their reach to depths of 1500 meters. Such deep-water trawling continues, with an impact that is surely devastating though largely unknown.

The damage left by the pass of a single trawler through grass beds (oceana.org)

The damage left by the pass of a single trawler through grass beds (oceana.org)

And yet everyone knows the problems associated with bottom-trawling, whether inshore or deep-water. It ploughs the bottom, removing its sediment, smoothing, radically changing the bottom seascape. It destroys ecosystems through the direct damage of the net, otter-boards and rock-hopper gear. It destroys ecosystems though its destruction and capture of non-target species. It decimates populations of target species through non-selective capture.

Bottom trawlers smooth out the seascape, changing the ecosystem (scientificamerican.com)

Bottom trawlers smooth out the seascape, changing the ecosystem (scientificamerican.com)

What can be done? Well, enter the Marine Stewardship Council. You are probably familiar with it, or at least with its blue logo indicating a fishery it has certified as sustainable. MSC was created in London in 1997, a joint effort of WWF and Unilever. In 1999 it became an independent non-profit organization.

Marine Stewardship Logo, promising the consumer a clear conscience (MSC.org)

Marine Stewardship Logo, promising the consumer a clear conscience (MSC.org)

Its rules for certification include the following: For a fisheries to be certified, fishing must continue indefinitely without over-exploiting resources. Productivity of the ecosystem must be preserved. All local, national and international laws must be upheld. And every company in the chain from boat to plate must be certified.

Between 2000 and 2004, MSC certified six fisheries, and the commercial benefits of certification began to be recognized. In 2006 WalMart announced that all fish it sold would be MSC certified by 2010. Whole Foods Market has gone the same route. So has Sainsbury’s, and Costco.

What better way to control, restrict, even prohibit bottom-trawling, which in no way meets the essential criteria required for certification? This looked very promising.

Instead, MSC began to certify bottom-trawled fisheries, mostly since 2011. Now certified are the fisheries for North Sea plaice, cod, haddock, and sole; New Zealand Blue whiting; Alaskan pollock in the Eastern Bering Sea (the largest single trawled fishery); and South African Hake, Barents Sea cod and haddock, Baltic cod, Iceland cod, North-west Atlantic shrimp and haddock. Others are in the pipeline.

Crew members opening a zipper in the net full of Alaskan Pollock on the F/V Ocean Hope 3 trawler. This fishery has been certified by MSC, but it shouldn't be (alaska-in-pictures.com)

Crew members opening a zipper in the net full of Alaskan Pollock on the F/V Ocean Hope 3 trawler. This fishery has been certified by MSC, but it shouldn’t be (alaska-in-pictures.com)

In 2011 National WWFs furiously denounced placing any bottom-trawled fish on the MSC list. Remember WWF helped found MSC in the first place. Greenpeace has also denounced it, as has the Pew environmental Group. And so have some of the very fisheries scientists who helped create the MSC.

MSC disagrees, as it proceeds to certify its 200th fisheries. But clearly it has radically loosened its rules for certification. One might be forgiven for thinking that once again the market place sets the rules instead of conservation.

We have not come very far from those disappointing Royal Commissions of 150 and 130 years ago.

There simply is no acceptable justification for bottom trawling. And MSC has failed us.

Belize has banned all bottom trawling within its 200 mile EEZ, a rare exception (uncharteredatolls.com)

Belize has banned all bottom trawling within its 200 mile EEZ, a rare exception (uncharteredatolls.com)

(Not) Eating Shrimp

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

(Michael Berrill mberrill@trentu.ca)

Do you eat shrimp?

Few tastes are finer than that of freshly cooked shrimp. But shrimp are expensive to buy, and therefore valuable to fish for, or to farm. And because of their value, in many places a lot of damage is done in the process.

Where they are trawled up from the sea bottom where they aggregate, the trawls may do immense damage to the bottom ecosystems, and everything else caught by the trawls is thrown back as as dead or damaged bycatch. Sometimes 90% of the catch is bycatch, discarded because its value is too little, or because there is no market for it, or because the fishing vessel is licensed to catch shrimp only. The bycatch in global fisheries is staggering – it could be as high as 30% of the total catch – and the most wasteful fishery of all is shrimp trawling.

Shrimp farming might seem to be the solution, but shrimp farms have replaced mangroves in many tropical regions, and we now know just how valuable mangroves are as nurseries for juvenile fish, habitat for shrimp, and protection of coastlines from storm damage. Yet in many places, mangroves have been largely eliminated to make space for shrimp ponds. In the short term, the ponds seem just too valuable. In the long term, they have done more immense damage.

Shrimp farms well buffered by mangroves are a partial solution, for eliminating the farms is not a likely outcome. Strict regulations on bottom trawling help, for trawling can be controlled, even if it can’t be eliminated.

Even better is watching carefully what shrimp you eat. Large tiger shrimp? Avoid them. Farmed shrimp? If they come from mangrove regions, avoid them until mangroves are properly protected.

Instead, try the cold water shrimp – like the Oregon pink shrimp, and the North Atlantic or northern shrimp, with the lovely name of Pandalus borealis. They are smaller, but they are sweet, and they are really quite wonderful, particularly when lightly sauteed.

Both of these shrimp are recommended by two of the most helpful organizations involved in certifying which fish species are being fished sustainably, and which should be avoided. It’s worth checking either site to see what other species you ought to avoid, and which you should look for:

The Marine Stewardship Council – http://www.msc.org/
Seafood Watch – http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_regional.aspx

And it’s worth taking the list along with you to supermarkets and restaurants, and insist on buying or eating only species that have been certified as coming from sustainable fisheries.