Cod-forsaken fish sticks

Writing about fisheries, hankering for veggie fish and chips

Writing about fisheries, hankering for veggie fish and chips

Interesting story yesterday from Maine. And I’ll get to how it relates to my culinary experiment (pictured above) earlier this year.

The lobster population has been exploding in the Gulf of Maine, which is a productive, protected and generally successful fishery. A problem: A high lobster population means lower prices. Sure, that’s good news for consumers who like everything to be cheap. But it’s bad news for local fishermen charged with protecting and husbanding the fishery while simultaneously paying bills.

The twist: This fishery dilemma dates to an earlier one, the overfishing of cod in New England. Cod eat everything off the ocean floor. Predation of lobster by cod was, according to scientists, an ecological check-and-balance.

What caused overfishing of cod? Among other phenomena, the fish stick. Yes, I’m suggesting that fish sticks constitute a phenomenon. So powerful was the mass-consumptive call for frozen, reheated, generic, white fish that the irrepressibly abundant cod are all but gone from the great George’s Bank. (Climate change may also have something to do with it.)

From Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, A 1950s advertisement from the Glouchester seafood company Gorton’s claimed that fish sticks were the

“latest, greatest achievement of the seafood industry of today… Thanks to fish sticks, the average American homemaker no longer considers serving fish a drudgery. Instead she regards it as a pleasure, just as her family have come to consider fish one of their favorite foods. Easy to prepare, thrifty to serve and delicious to eat, fish sticks, it can be truthfully said, have greatly increased the demand for fish, while revolutionizing the fishing industry.”

And this is how we get the picture above, my tofu-batter-vinegar-shallow-fry earlier this year. The social construct of the fish stick is powerful, indeed.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Small fishing is beautiful

Small is beautiful

Above: A Panamanian boat man.

I’m in the final throes of my thesis writing; the topic: Explaining poverty in Indian fisheries.

However, for the last week and a half I’ve been writing the history and evolution of fisheries globally, which has me constantly thinking about the stratification of fisheries and the multiverse of fisheries development paths.

In case anyone is interested, a good bit of straightforward reading on fisheries — other than my thesis, of course — is DeSombre and Barkin’s Fish. More encyclopedic but also helpful is the stupidly expensive Handbook of Fish Biology and Fisheries Vol 2.: Fisheries, edited by Paul J.B. Hart and John D. Reynolds.

Note: There are plenty of problems with small- and intermediate-scale fisheries, too. But when compared to fully industrialized fishing and considering the plight of the increasingly depleted ocean, it’s difficult not to argue for the small-is-beautiful model.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dear India, it’s time for a new marine conservation agenda

Front page of the Hindustan Times website

The 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity wrapped up yesterday. Today the Hindustan Times published my response op-ed, challenging the Indian government to move forward with an aggressive marine conservation agenda. It’s linked from the front page of HT’s web site at the moment.

The op-ed itself is based on my summer research on India’s EEZ conservation status and the institutional marine research/knowledge/policy regime. That research culminated in a published report and atlas of conservation and environmental metrics of the Indian EEZ.

Ignore the random but incredibly humorous Victoria’s Secret ad center screen. Thankfully, that ad is automatically placed only based on my U.S. location. In India, at least, I’m not competing with advertisements of women in lingerie.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Is shark finning the answer to shark finning?

Cruising behind him

Global shark catch is staggering. As many as 73 million sharks are taken from the ocean each year; most are relieved of their fins and dumped back in the water while still alive. These beautiful and important predators now face serious threats from our wanton harvesting, mostly to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup.

First and foremost this is tragic simply in terms of human decimation of biodiversity. Excepting that ecological concern, there are real reasons to worry from an entirely anthropocentric standpoint. For one, sharks provide ecotourism benefits to many coastal economies, as divers pay substantially to see them. Also, as apex predators, a decline in shark populations can lead to explosions of other species on lower trophic levels, which can threaten ecosystems of commercial importance For example, fewer sharks lead to more rays which lead to less scallops for us to sell for dipping in butter.

Is there an answer? Shark sanctuaries are fantastic; they represent the ideal of conservation. However, given problems with enforcement and the potential for bans to simply displace degradation rather than curtail it, national prohibitions don’t seem realistic as a complete solution.

I argue, rather, that we need to recognize — at least in the interim — the reality that shark finning will likely continue. We would do well then to incentivize conservation and better management so that fishermen and fleets develop an interest in preserving rather than over-harvesting. In this class paper, I lay out the economic reasoning for a nation-by-nation transferable shark fishing quota system.

This would push harvests toward social and biological optimums; in conjunction with marine protected areas and fishing best practice standards, a quota system might actually slow the destruction of shark populations worldwide.

It’s not a particularly palatable option for shark lovers (myself included). Under a quota system, some number of sharks like the one above will still be killed for an overpriced, elitist broth. But it also might do better to ensure that a sustainable population of sharks sticks around.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,