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Archive for the ‘Overfishing’ Category
Michaelangelo took about 4 years to craft his masterpiece, the David. Mother Nature’s been sculpting sharks—true masterpiece predators—for nearly 400 million. And in the past two months, some major steps have been made to turn the tide on their destruction.
On Oct. 7th, California joined Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Guam in banning the trade of shark fins, effectively blocking all trade from the western seaboard. Last week, the largest city in Canada, Toronto, also passed such a ban.
Shark finning is truly one of the most grotesque and wasteful fishing practices in existence, with the bodies of sharks tossed overboard (still alive) to maximize room on deck for storing just the fins. The fins, which provide no nutritional value whatsoever, are used to make the Asian delicacy of shark fin soup—an extravagantly priced dish that serves as a sign of wealth and status at Chinese wedding banquets.
By closing the trade on shark fins, cities and states are taking critical steps to address an international fishing crisis that is notoriously difficult to control. Many sharks are caught on the high seas—which remains the wild west of fisheries management. Today, sharks are some of the most endangered species on the planet, but only three species (Great white, whale shark and basking shark) are protected on IUCN Red List. These bans represent the triumph of a small group of individuals thinking creatively to push for big change in what appeared to be an insurmountable task. Besides the fact that there are no regulatory structures in place that would allow for enforcement of finning bans on the high seas, it is nearly impossible to police. Even where the fishery is illegal, poaching remains a huge problem—such is the case in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. So instead, this grassroots effort, starting at the city-council level in many cases, targets the trade, rather than the fishery—something we can police. And now we’ve got a major seaboard blockade…with the ripple effects continuing to spiral outwards.
Without a market for shark fins, shark fisheries will hopefully start taking the dive, instead of the sharks.
For another innovative tactic on fighting shark finning, see this cool story here.
Photo credit: USFWS
Now here’s a good idea: rather than trying to educate thousands of consumers about sustainable seafood options via wallet-sized seafood guides, let the price of the fish do the talking. And nothing screams “pick me!” louder than a freebie. The idea, called “Switch the Fish” is an effort by UK’s Sainsbury’s supermarket to offer alternative fish to the traditional big 5. Every time a customer went to get their usual cod, haddock, tuna, salmon or prawns they were offered the chance to take home a less-well-known alternative, such as pouting or mackerel, for FREE. (They also got some suggested tasty recipes—with a little help from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver).
It is a great way to get people thinking about alternative species, especially those that are more sustainably caught or are typically wasted as bycatch. Often, perfectly good fish are chucked over the gunnels because they are considered low value, and there is no market. By having large grocery stores willing to expand their selection, and encouraging consumers to do the same, bycatch turns into profits. Less waste for the ocean and the fisher.
There is no doubt that we need to take pressure off some of the most popular, and least sustainable species, such as tuna and shrimp. However, there is a risk in this kind of campaign: it is critical that people don’t simply add MORE fish to their diet. Instead, it truly requires a “switch”, so that overall demand for seafood does not increase. Sometimes, the media blitz surrounding such efforts winds up increasing purchases of fish in general, and that does nothing to help the seas.
So, as with every campaign, education and specific targets are key. The alternative species need to indeed be more sustainable (and in this instance, they appear to be) and consumers need to understand that eating more fish is bad—no matter the type. But, if you are going to eat seafood, it’s not a bad idea to “switch the fish,” and getting a free trial for a foreign-looking fish seems like a great way to encourage that behavioral shift.
And, the more retailors get in on this action, the easier the education becomes for the consumer. It’s far more effective to leverage one retail chain than to try and education thousands of individual shoppers. It’s another way that businesses can take a big bold step forward in helping to secure their own future fish supplies, while helping to save seafood and the seas.
So, if a similar campaign were to kick off here in the U.S., who should we target? What grocery store do you think would go for it?
Photo credit: Ell Brown
Red Fish, Blue Fish” So goes the famous Dr. Seuss book, teaching kids to read and count. Now, those same red and blue fish can teach restaurants how to stop overfishing… and you can help.
Forget Zagat’s and say later to Michelin: there’s a new way to find the best seafood restaurants in town, and this time, “best” coincides as much with sustainability as it does taste. Fish2Fork is a new online restaurant ranking system that allows you to look up restaurants in your area and find out which ones are supporting more sustainable seafood options (five stars is replaced by five blue fish for best practices) or those driving the catch of the last endangered bluefin tuna (earning the worst rating, five red fish, and a scathing write up). The rankings allow you, the customer, to make an informed decision about where you want to eat.
But, even better, here’s a chance to fulfill that childhood secret agent fantasy for a worthy cause: go spy on your own favorite establishments. Restaurants and customers can fill out the online questionnaire, and along with the restaurant’s menu and their website, Fish2Fork will create a ranking. So you can help support those restaurants doing the right thing, but also expose those that aren’t.
See my blog about Fish2Fork on the environment section of Change.org to find out a bit more on how it works. (And it does work, by the way. The UK version is up and running and has already led to several restaurants pulling endangered species off their menus).
The take home message is this: over half the seafood consumed in the U.S is bought in restaurants. That means restaurants have enormous buying power, which could translate into real change on the water. So the next time you’re hunkering for some sushi, check out Fish2Fork’s database to find a fish bar that not only serves up a fresh catch, but a catch you can feel good about consuming, too. If you don’t see any restaurants listed in your area, its a great time to fulfill that inner spy: grab a pen and take some notes on a local restaurant and enter them in. And, if you feel as confident as a true 007 should, let the restaurant know about the site — encourage them to register, and most importantly, improve their ways.
Photo credit: Pierre-Olivier