Can Consumer Pressure Help Save Our Fisheries?

Right now 70 percent of the world's fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline, but there are some reasons to be hopeful.

Recent news reports and social media sites have made many aware that after being fished in the Mediterranean for centuries the Atlantic bluefin tuna population is at serious risk of collapse but there are a number of other fish species once taken for granted that are also in trouble.

Popular choices including swordfish red snapper and Chilean sea bass are in real danger of being lost to future generations. Atlantic cod was once a vital part of the Massachusetts economy and been heavily fished for the last 50 years. The nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund says "U.S. and Canadian cod stocks remain extremely depleted and European populations have declined as well." The organization asks consumers to look for cod that has been caught by hook-and-line and avoid Atlantic cod caught with bottom trawls.

Worrisome Stats

The Seafood Watch program of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium says the global catch of wild fish leveled off over 20 years ago and 70 percent of the world's fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline. The National Marine Fisheries Service says 60 important fisheries in the U.S are overfished or undergoing overfishing.

Wild Salmon Fishing

There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Wild salmon populations in Southern Oregon and Northern California region have sharply declined in recent years. In April of 2009 commercial salmon fishing off the coast of California was banned for the second year in a row. The salmon industry received a miniature federal bailout in the amount of $170 million in emergency aid after the 2008 season was canceled.

The ban has been effective enough that salmon will be fished off the west coast of the U.S. in 2010. Concerned salmon lovers can also look for wild-caught salmon from Alaskan waters for a sustainable alternative. The Alaskan constitution actually requires that seafood be sustainably harvested.

Food Stores Step Up to the Plate

Greenpeace has rated supermarkets based on a number of factors: policy initiatives labeling and sales of critically endangered seafood species in 2009. The top supermarket wasn't a pricey boutique-style store. It was Wegman's a regional supermarket in the mid-Atlantic that won top honors thanks to its sustainable seafood sourcing policy. Number two was Ahold USA the company that owns the Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets known more for everyday staples than expensive delicacies.

Whole Foods has had a comprehensive policy for stocking sustainable fish seafood for some time and specialty food retailer Trader Joe's has just announced that it will shift all of its seafood purchases to sustainable sources by the end of 2012. The company is also in the process of enhancing package labeling for all seafood items to include information on species' Latin names origin and catch or production method.

Consumer pressure is clearly having an effect.

Jeff Deasy is president of American Feast.
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