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Oct 20, 2010

Sustainable fishing can work

Everybody knows that over-fishing is a serious problem, but nobody seems to do much about it. Think I’m exaggerating? Go watch the fast-paced documentary, The End of the Line. Filmed over two years—in locales ranging from the Straits of Gibraltar to the coast of Senegal, from the pristine wilds of Alaska to the Tokyo fish market—it focuses on scientists, fishermen, activists, government officials and others to arrive at a grim conclusion: If we continue fishing as we have been, most seafood will be gone by 2048.

There is some hope. More and more people are choosing to buy only sustainably-harvested fish. Monterey Bay Aquarium has long had a Seafood Watch Pocket Guide that helps consumers make sustainable choices. Today the Guide comes in six US editions (West Coast, Southwest, Hawaii, Central, Southeast, and Northeast) as well as a National edition and a Sushi Guide (download any or all for free). You can also get the National guide as a free iPhone app at the iTunes store (it's one of the most popular free downloads).

Another example of increasing consciousness: Wal-Mart, a huge seafood retailer, recently announced that shoppers can now find the safe-to-eat Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) independent blue eco-label on ten of its fish products in locations across the US.

Here's another good thing: The End of the Line cites Alaska as an example of responsible and sustainable fishing. Seasonal fishing limits for various species are pre-determined based on location and current estimated species population. For instance, this year’s Red King Crab harvest season in Bristol Bay, which opened on October 15, has a limit of 15 million pounds (a small decrease from last year’s harvest). Once the limit is reached or the season reaches it’s official end, that’s it: no more fishing until next year.

According to a press release from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska is dedicated to seafood sustainability. The words "seafood marketing" may not seem to have anything to do with sustainability, but in fact they do. The Institute says that seafood is “so essential to our [Alaskan] way of life that our constitution has a mandate that ‘fish…be utilized, developed and maintained on the sustained yield principle.’” (See the video below, No Shortage of Wild Salmon in Alaska, to learn more about Alaska’s sustainable approach to seafood.)

The seafood industry is Alaska’s largest private sector employer. If the seafood disappears, Alaska is in trouble—so residents understand the need to protect fisheries for future generations. Instead of ceaselessly and greedily sucking up everything they find, they're taking some seafood and leaving the rest to re-populate. The world's seas need more of that kind of sustainable management.

Meanwhile, go see The End of the Line (it’s a free selection for Netflix members).


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