Trip proves an overfishing eye-opener
by Candus Thomson -- On the Outdoors (Sports)
DIGBY, Nova Scotia - Broiled scallops with a spritz of lemon juice.
Flounder stuffed with crab meat. Grouper sandwiches with lettuce and
tomato. Lobster dipped in melted butter.
With apologies to Julie Andrews, these are a few of our favorite things.
But they might not be if we don't mend our ways.
A two-week tour of Canada's Maritime Provinces and northern New England
really opens a fish lover's eyes to the problems of overfishing.
Everywhere, people are talking about the bountiful ocean that isn't
Here in Digby, a community known for its succulent scallops, fishermen
are learning to raise salmon in huge, partially submerged circular
cages. Aquaculture, they believe, has a more stable future than
continuing to drag the bottom of the bay for scallops.
Across the province in historic Louisburg, where the British vanquished
French settlers in 1745 and 1758, re-enactors in the fortress can't
demonstrate the art of cod drying because, well, it's hard to come by
the overfished fish. The bosses at the fortress must order cod through
the government, and the allotment hasn't arrived yet, tourists are told.
In the capital of Halifax, environmentalists are suing the government
for allowing commercial fishermen to drag Georges Bank and damage fish
Down in the colonies, the Boston Globe reports that certain species are
reacting to overfishing by reproducing earlier, meaning your grandfather
really did catch much larger fish than you do.
What's overfished? What isn't these days?
An analysis released last week by the Marine Fish Conservation Network
lists 31 species at risk of extinction, among them eight kinds of
grouper, five types of salmon, four varieties of skate, three sharks and
In a separate survey, the U.S. Commerce Department estimates that nearly
half of all varieties of fish managed by the federal government are
overfished or are in the process of being overfished.
Scary? Just ask Barbara Stickel, who was raised on Maryland's Eastern
Shore but now makes her living as a commercial fisherman in Morro Bay,
"We can't do our jobs unless fish managers do theirs," says Stickel, a
hook-and-line fisherman. "The future of fishing and fishing communities
is on the line."
Stickel talked about the gloomy future of fishing at a news conference
in Washington on Thursday announcing the introduction of a bill in
Congress to help protect and restore ocean resources.
The Fisheries Recovery Act of 2001, co-sponsored by 20 members of the
House, would close loopholes in existing laws and change the focus of
regulations from managing quotas to conserving fish.
The list of sponsors does not contain a single member of the Maryland
delegation, but Republican Wayne Gilchrest, chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans, is a strong
supporter of measures to protect what's left under there.
Lee Crockett, executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation
Network, says the study numbers speak for themselves.
"One of the things you hear from the government and some fishermen is
that things aren't that bad and that we're turning the corner," he says.
"If this isn't a clear indication of trouble, nothing is."
Naturally, the fishing industry thinks additional regulations are
"It's unlikely that a species gets fished to biological extinction,"
spokeswoman Linda Candler told the Associated Press. "Long before a
species becomes biologically extinct, it becomes unfeasible to harvest
So, commercial fishermen suck all the good stuff out, then move on to
something else. Don't let Linda near your refrigerator.
Face it, gang, when a study by the federal government says that half of
what the government controls is in trouble, one can only conclude that:
1) Man is a greedy pig when it comes to fishing.
2) Bureaucrats are doing a crummy job of preventing that.
Stickel, her voice breaking with emotion, says her livelihood is based
on adjusting to the seasons - salmon in the spring, albacore tuna in the
summer, rockfish in the winter. Five years ago, she and her husband
upgraded their boat, because no matter what happened to the other fish,
they thought "we'd always have rockfish."
Then last year, West Coast fisheries managers, looking at a 25-year
population decline, reduced commercial rockfish quotas to the level that
made it unprofitable for the Stickels.
But, she says, while fishing for salmon two months ago, "we trolled
through hundreds of dead juvenile rockfish discarded by one small
trawler ... probably more rockfish than I would have caught in a year."
The by-catch, or fish tossed back by trawlers targeting other species,
is one of the dirty little secrets of commercial fishing that those of
us who enjoy eating fish try not to think about.
Commercial fishermen reinforce the illusion when they pooh-pooh reports
of overfishing as "bad science." Remember "bad science?" They said it
about Chesapeake Bay rockfish, crabs and flounder.
Crockett has heard it all before. "Fish science is an imprecise science.
It's difficult to get to. The water moves, the fish move, it's a long
way down," he says. "Bad science is what people who don't want to change
say. They seize upon that uncertainty."
The Fisheries Recovery Act of 2001 would help take the guesswork out by:
· Establishing better monitoring and reporting of catches through paid
observers aboard some fishing vessels;
· Identifying and protecting the food chain that sustains each species;
· Reducing the by-catch levels, conservatively estimated at 2.7 billion
pounds annually, by requiring more selective fishing gear and methods,
· Protecting those species that are overfished.
The bill would take $50 million from the $70 million in revenue
generated annually from the duties on imported fish to pay the observers
and for research and development of better fishing gear.
Congress took a first step in 1996, when it passed the Sustainable
Fisheries Act that required the National Marine Fisheries Service and
the eight regional management councils to guard against overfishing.
Since then, the number of species in trouble has grown from 98 to 107,
according to a U.S. Commerce Department report. Crockett says NMFS has
rubber-stamped the vast majority of management plans submitted by the
regional councils even though most did not conform with the law.
"We seem to always be crisis-driven, managing from one crisis to
another," says Crockett. "We'd like to change that mentality, but
getting it changed is very difficult.
"Fishermen are very creative. If you pass a law, they will figure out a
way around it. This bill will tap into their creativity and make it
worth their while to figure out a way to fish better."
Copyright © 2001, The Baltimore Sun