The report card is out

The National Marine Fisheries Service today released its annual statistical report card, providing, in their words, a “snapshot documenting fishing’s importance to the nation”. We’re reviewing the full report today, and those who like to dive into the fisheries weeds as much as we do can find the PDF version on the Fisheries Service website.

NOAA’s press statement, released in conjunction with the report, made clear their top-line takeaway: “US seafood landings reach 17-year high in 2011″, it announced. And it certainly is true that landings and ex-vessel prices are up in a number of fisheries — a direct consequence of the science-based management reforms that have been implemented over the last two decades.

Another top-line number? The percentage of seafood consumed here that was imported jumped by five percentage points to 91 percent. (If you’re wondering, the three top imports in 2011 were shrimp, canned tuna, and tilapia fillets.)

What a staggering number for an ocean nation with a rich fishing heritage.

Is this a problem? With more than nine out of every ten mouthfuls of seafood we swallow being shipped to us from abroad, should we be alarmed? Should we be more aggressively searching for ways to turn the tide?

Two qualifiers on today’s number. First, it goes both ways. The seafood sector is a global market, and plenty of fish landed by US vessels are sold to markets oversees. I was fortunate enough to go dogfishing out of Chatham, MA a few months back. Dogfish is a sustainable American fishery — and essentially 100 percent for the export market. Second, as NOAA is quick to note, a portion of the seafood that is imported into the United States is also, in fact, caught here: it’s simply exported overseas for processing and then re-imported back to us.

Still, there’s a huge cloud hanging over the US import market. While US fisheries are increasingly stable, global fisheries are a decidedly mixed bag. Many are chronically overfished, and by some estimates more than 20 percent of fish landings globally are the catch of pirate fishers. This illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing presents a massive threat to ocean health. And here’s the uncomfortable truth: until we take more concrete steps as a nation to bring traceability to our seafood supply chain, American retailers and consumers are unwittingly fueling demand for this product.

Increasingly, American retailers are seeking to adopt responsible buying practices and US consumers by the millions are opting for sustainable choices. Their efforts are making an enormous difference. But until we as a nation do better on seafood traceability, we’ll be left to wonder where that fish really came from. For a country committed to ending overfishing and building a prosperous fishing future, we can and must do better.

4 thoughts on “The report card is out

  1. From this report card;

    Recreational Fisheries Landings

    “Recreational anglers took 69 million trips and caught 345 million fish in 2011. Nearly 60 percent of these fish were released alive. The estimated total weight of landed catch (almost 140 million fish) was over 200 million pounds. These figures are down slightly from 2010 totals. Spotted seatrout remains the top catch among saltwater anglers, with more than 41 million fish caught in 2011. Atlantic croaker, spot, kingfish, and red drum were among the other most commonly caught species in 2011.”

    This report documents a REDUCTION in recreational fishing effort in 2011, yet for some reason Gulf Red Snapper fishermen SUPPOSEDLY INCREASED their effort, EXPONENTIALLY, in the face of reduced bag limits, reduced season days, increased fuel costs, etc. etc.? Strange.

    The Outdoor Foundation’s 2012 Outdoor Participation Report shows a 13.9% DECREASE in saltwater fishing participation from 2009 to 2011;…pation2012.pdf

    The Dept. of the Interior just released its 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation;…eport-2011.pdf

    This survey shows a 2% REDUCTION in the number of people fishing in saltwater in the 10 year stretch from 2001 to 2011.
    The FWC chronicled “West Florida All Ocean Angler Trips” that showed a 45 % DECREASE in offshore fishing trips from 2006 to 2010.
    You can go to the NMFS site and query effort yourself to see what the NMFS itself has documented regarding effort;…me_series.html

    I did a query for the Gulf of Mexico for the years 1995 to 2011, Annual waves, Fishing Mode – Private/Rental Boats, Fishing Area – All Ocean Combined. The query is shown below – “Sept 19 2012 Query”.

    According to the NMFS figures shown on this query, private recreational effort in the Gulf of Mexico offshore fishery DECLINED 42% from 2006 to 2011, pretty much mirroring the FWC data.

    Again, according to NMFS numbers, we fished a 194 day red snapper season in 2006, enjoyed 4 fish limits, each fish weighed about 3.2 pounds on average, we landed about 4.22 million pounds, or about 1.3 million fish.

    In 2011 however, the NMFS claims that in our 48 day season (75% REDUCTION IN SEASON DAYS), with our 2 fish limits (50% REDUCTION IN NUMBER OF FISH WE CAN BRING BACK TO THE DOCK EACH DAY), that the fish doubled in size to about 6.4 pounds each, and somehow, through an act of God, we SUPPOSEDLY were able to land EVEN MORE POUNDAGE to the tune of about 4.5 million pounds, about 700,000 fish (about 1/2 the number of fish we caught in 2006).

    Taking into account that the fish weight doubled in size, you must also take into account that the daily bag limits were reduced by 50%, so the net poundage brought back to the dock per angler remained constant. Daily bag limits are just that – it is illegal for recreational anglers to go forth and harvest multiple bag limits per season day.

    The season days were reduced dramatically in 2011 as compared to 2006, so the ONLY other variable that could account for this INCREASE in landings is effort, or as Crabtree and Co. like to refer to “Effort Compensation”. The theory is that the psychological effect of the reductions in seasons and bag limits on private recreational anglers’ minds is that it triggers our hate for those fish so much that we simply increase our effort EXPONENTIALLY to offset the reduced number of days. Nevermind that the fed’s draconian regs, reduced bag limits, high gas prices, bad economy, etc. have all contributed to driving many anglers AWAY from the sport – that is fact.

    Therefore, in order for the NMFS numbers to work, we recreational anglers took 4-5 fishing trips per season day in 2011 for every single fishing trip per season day in 2006.

    It simply didn’t happen.

    To corroborate this claim, every other indicator OUTSIDE of Crabtree’s office shows otherwise – recreational effort has NOT increased since 2006 Dr. Crabtree – it has DECREASED. For the NMFS to contradict even its own effort numbers that show a 42% DECREASE in private recreational effort from 2006 to 2011 to claim a 400% INCREASE, in order to provide a cover to artificially reduce our seasons each year is, in my mind, a criminal act.

    If you take the average number of Angler Bag Limits Per Season Day from 2006, and assume we had the same effort in 2011, it would have resulted in the necessity for a Red Snapper season that extended well over 200 DAYS to catch that 4.5 million pounds of fish – not possible in just 48 days.

    It is past time for a full scale investigation into this fraud being perpetrated upon the American People by the EDF/Lubchenco/NMFS consortium.

    You see, in order to justify the implementation of Catch Shares in the Gulf of Mexico recreational fisheries and to privatize our Public Trust Resource, the EDF/Lubchenco/NMFS consortium MUST fabricate a crisis where none exists, otherwise, there would be no need…

    It has been my experience that when a scenario is pitched as being a crisis situation by an entity controlling the data (such as our NMFS), when that scenario could ultimately result in enriching a select few at the expense of the many, that it is of the utmost importance to validate the claims made by that entity.

    That point is only underscored when virtually ALL of the indicators outside of this government entity’s influence (and even in addition to this entity’s OWN data), contradict this entity’s claims.

    Who would have thought that our own government would be conniving with those who want to not only violate the Public Trust Doctrine but who desire to deny access to what every American already owns – our fish?

    Theodore Roosevelt should be rolling over in his grave about now.

    We need to demand, in addition to a full scale investigation into this fraud, that the EDF-inserted restrictions in the 2006 Reauthorization of Magnuson be recalled immediately. Nobody is calling for a “free-for-all”, or elimination of fisheries seasons/bag limits as some of the Catch Shares zealots have claimed – simply honest, fair, and equitable regulations.

    Capt. Thomas J. Hilton

  2. Pingback: Will you be eating pirate booty when you enjoy your next seafood meal? | FishHQ

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