Skip to main content

  There's an eye-opening piece in the NY Times on the absurdities of American food fish policies. Global trade, labor economics, sustainability - all of these things collide in a mish-mosh of insanity. Paul Greenberg has the details.

   That and more below the Orange Omnilepticon.

        Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish? is the question Greenberg asks.

...According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, even though the United States controls more ocean than any other country, 86 percent of the seafood we consume is imported.

But it’s much fishier than that: While a majority of the seafood Americans eat is foreign, a third of what Americans catch is sold to foreigners.

The seafood industry, it turns out, is a great example of the swaps, delete-and-replace maneuvers and other mechanisms that define so much of the outsourced American economy; you can find similar, seemingly inefficient phenomena in everything from textiles to technology. The difference with seafood, though, is that we’re talking about the destruction and outsourcing of the very ecological infrastructure that underpins the health of our coasts. Let’s walk through these illogical arrangements, course by course.

   To hit the high points, we've done a number of things that don't make sense. We've done a swap and replace thing several times, in which a locally available species has been decimated and we've ended up replacing it with imports instead of trying to sustain and restore native fisheries.

    Where we do have abundant stocks on hand, we've been exporting them and importing others, chiefly from Asia. We're doing things with salmon that make no sense, exporting it in large numbers - and then we re-import it. The economics of global trade have us freezing it, shipping to Asia where cheap labor processes it, refreezes it, and ships it back to America. And the trade laws covering this are even stranger.

...So, for example, when fish sticks are cut from blocks of imported “white fish” in an American facility and exported to a foreign country, they are classified as American domestic production. Meanwhile some of our imports, as with an unknowable portion of our salmon, are taken from American waters, reprocessed elsewhere and brought back home. Do these percentages cancel themselves out? We don’t know.

And that’s my point. Globalization, that unseen force that supposedly eliminates inefficiencies through the magic of trade, has radically disconnected us from our seafood supply.

Of course, there is a place for the farming of shrimp, just as there is a place for the farming of oysters. There is a need for efficient aquacultured species like tilapia and Pangasius, just as there is a need to curb the overfishing of Atlantic cod. There is even a place for farmed Atlantic salmon, particularly if it can be raised so it doesn’t affect wild salmon.

But when trade so completely severs us from our coastal ecosystems, what motivation have we to preserve them? I’d argue that with so much farmed salmon coming into the country, we turn a blind eye to projects like the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, which would process 10 billion tons of ore from a site next to the spawning grounds of the largest wild sockeye salmon run on earth.

emphasis added

      Read the whole thing. The picture Greenberg paints is a compelling challenge to a lot of the assumptions underlying trade policies and market 'solutions'. The assumption that we can always get fish from 'somewhere else' contributes to attitudes that ignore local environmental issues - to our peril.

       And it's not just about the fish WE eat.

The Menhaden - the fish you've never heard of that so much depends on.

       Atlantic menhaden are a small fish that do some important things. They live on plankton - meaning they're near the bottom of the food web; they can help prevent or reduce red tides for example. A member of the herring family, they are not a popular food item - for humans - not directly. Instead, we benefit from them second or third hand, as it were. Menhaden are an important food supply for a number of fish: bluefish, striped bass, cod, haddock, halibut, mackerel, swordfish, and tuna.

       If Atlantic fisheries are in bad shape, one reason is the supply of menhaden is not what it used to be - and that gets into the other way we eat them by proxy. Menhaden are subject to Industrial fishing, where they are harvested for use in such things as fish oil, fish meal, and fertilizer. In a word, they have been overfished. As of 2011,

By weight, more menhaden are caught than any other fish on the East Coast, and about three-quarters of this catch comes from the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding ocean waters. A single factory in Reedville, Va., takes in and grinds up this haul, reducing it to fish meal and oil destined for dietary supplements, fertilizer, farm animal feed, and pet food.

Because menhaden are mainly caught in state waters (less than three miles from the beach), they are managed by the ASMFC and are not governed by the requirements of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which I’ve described in earlier posts. There is no catch limit for Atlantic menhaden, only an unenforceable cap, with no accountability measures in place.

    An infographic at the link above notes that in the past 25 years, the numbers of Atlantic menhaden have plunged by 88%. The factory cited above is Omega Protein. Without menhaden, all of the fish that prey on them are in trouble. Without menhaden to keep plankton in check, coastal waters are more subject to algae blooms that can deplete oxygen and result in fish kills. The situation has become so dire, action is finally being taken.
In December 2012, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted to establish the first ever coast-wide catch limit for the Atlantic Menhaden fishery, after urging from fishermen, conservationists, and many of you to protect Menhaden.  Menhaden are one of the sea’s most important fish because they provide food for many larger ocean species.  For decades prior to this, fishermen were allowed to catch unlimited amounts of Menhaden, and because of this the Menhaden population declined by around 90%.
Preliminary results are promising.
Now, a year later, the catch numbers for Menhaden are in and it’s good news. The 2013 catches remained just under the coast-wide catch limit in its first year of implementation! This means that around 300 million more Menhaden were left in the sea to feed fish like striped bass, bluefish, and weakfish, as well as seabirds and marine mammals. This helps ensure the maintenance of ocean food-webs.  And in turn it helps support commercial and recreational fishing and also eco-tourism, like whale-watching.
     The menhaden story is an important piece of the larger puzzle of sustaining Atlantic fisheries in general. First steps have been taken, but the effort must continue. Meanwhile, we have a problem of too many of the wrong kind of fish in the wrong places.

The Alien Invaders in the Heartland

     If we don't have enough menhaden, we do have too many of another kind of fish. The Scientist Magazine recently featured several stories about the problem of Asian carp. Imported to this country decades ago to clean retention ponds, they escaped into the wild where they had few natural enemies or diseases to restrain their numbers. They multiplied enthusiastically and have displaced a lot of native fish. Illinois fisherman Clint Carter is working on the problem.

This stretch of the Illinois River—once commercially fished for catfish and a genus of carp-like fish called buffalo—is chock-full of invasive carp originally introduced from Asia. Carter can’t remember it any other way. Asian carp were brought to the southern U.S. decades ago to clean retention ponds, but floods allowed the fish to escape and spread throughout natural waterways, where they quickly dominated their new environs and outcompeted native fish for food. The biggest concern now—aside from getting whacked in the face by the silver carp, which are notorious for their aerial shenanigans—is that they will make it into the Great Lakes, where they could potentially decimate native fish populations. Carter proposes ridding waterways of the alien fish by harnessing a force that has had unintended success at reducing populations of countless other species, from bluefin tuna to diamondback terrapins: cultivate a human appetite for invasive carp.

Others agree. “When we decide something is pretty good to eat, we run right through it,” says Jackson Landers, a hunting educator and author of Eating Aliens. “There’s definitely precedent for human beings deciding to hunt something down in a systematic way, especially if we apply industrial harvesting methods.”

The video below gives an idea of the scale of the carp problem.

    There is serious concern that if Asian carp reach the Great Lakes, it will be an economic and environmental catastrophe. There are serious efforts to keep that from happening.

New efforts to be launched this year include increased sampling downstream of the electric barriers, the hiring of commercial fishing crews to target at-risk areas of the upper Illinois Waterway; a heightened telemetry monitoring program for the fish; and testing the off-target effects of water gun seismic pressure waves, which can divert the fish away from stationary or mobile barriers.
         Carter's culinary approach, as the video makes clear, has several problems. The amount of edible filets per fish is small, and a bit labor intensive. There's too much leftover fish that still has to be discarded. A possible solution suggests itself.

         If Asian carp could be harvested in large numbers economically, they could be substituted for menhaden in the production of fish meal and fertilizer. Omega Protein's model of one huge processing facility would not work for a carp population distributed along numerous waterways across many states; however a more localized, smaller scale approach might work, with regional processing facilities. It's definitely worth investigating, assuming processed carp could adequately replace menhaden. There's certainly no shortage of them.

Net Takeaway

       As these news stories illustrate, there are a lot of things we could be doing with regard to our fisheries that would make more sense than what we have now. It's clear market-based solutions alone will not and can not solve this puzzle. It's going to take regulatory actions and policies that look beyond immediate profit and loss to the bigger picture.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (25+ / 0-)

    How much fish do you have in your diet? What's your favorite seafood? Got any good recipes for Asian carp? Feel free to share.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 08:37:55 PM PDT

  •  This!!!! (12+ / 0-)
     Atlantic menhaden are a small fish that do some important things. They live on plankton - meaning they're near the bottom of the food web; they can help prevent or reduce red tides for example. A member of the herring family, they are not a popular food item - for humans - not directly. Instead, we benefit from them second or third hand, as it were. Menhaden are an important food supply for a number of fish: bluefish, striped bass, cod, haddock, halibut, mackerel, swordfish, and tuna.
    It makes me f'n crazy out here in CA when folks call the Delta Smelt a 2" baitfish. They are an indicator species for all those above them in the food chain.

    Such backward ass thinking. Out here, the drought is really pushing the limits. The big ag industry would destroy the CA Delta and it's fishery just to grow more almonds and pistachos for export.

    I remember a year or so ago, I found a really nice looking trail mix at the local Smart & Final and bought a box to stock in our little store. When I was putting them on the shelf, I noticed that they were MADE IN CHINA!!

    Yep - the water we send down to the southern San Joaquin Valley to grow almonds - the almonds are harvested and then sent to China to be mixed w/other ingredients and made into trail mix - and then sent back to the US. It was the last goddamn box of that shit I bought!

    if a habitat is flooded, the improvement for target fishes increases by an infinite percentage...because a habitat suitability index that is even a tiny fraction of 1 is still infinitely higher than zero, which is the suitability of dry land to fishes.

    by mrsgoo on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 09:01:33 PM PDT

  •  In my freezer, for illustrative purposes, (9+ / 0-)

    I have a bag of flounder fillets. They were caught right off shore from here. They were then sold to a Chinese processing ship, taken from Florida through the Panama Canal to China, bagged up, shipped to the West Coast, trucked to a Walmart distribution center in Arkansas, reshipped to my local Walmart, and sold within a few miles of where they were caught.

    How can it be economic to ship a product ten thousand miles, only to consume it right where it was produced?

    Yet it would cost three times as much per pound to buy the same fish at the local seafood market.


  •  In my freezer - some local caught (4+ / 0-)

    Salmon. Store bought shrimps that I guess I will be not buying anymore after reading about the slave trade over there in Thailand - which I would prefer local (mexico) caught shrimp but they are very hard to source and really expensive. And I cannot bring myself to buy gulf coast shrimp. A bit of local Striped Bass. And I am becoming very afraid of what the Fukushima mess is going to do to the Pacific fishery.

    if a habitat is flooded, the improvement for target fishes increases by an infinite percentage...because a habitat suitability index that is even a tiny fraction of 1 is still infinitely higher than zero, which is the suitability of dry land to fishes.

    by mrsgoo on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 09:11:56 PM PDT

  •  In the freezer are (5+ / 0-)

    Brook trout and rainbow trout, coho, sockeye, chum and spring salmon, some fillets of greenling, a cazabon fillet, some herring, dungeness crab, and some white spot prawns,

    All caught by me locally, or semi locally,( a run to the coast).

    Over the course of the year, there will be a mess of crayfish, a feed of Black Crappie, some steelhead, some rockfish, a mess of Indian Candy and smoked salmon, mussels, clams and oysters, assorted flounder, some mackerel, and if the currents are right, some bonito tuna.

    If the wife's parents or sister come to visit, we will have some pike, perch and walleye added to the mix.

    The only fish we buy are an occasional lobster for the wife, and Millionaire sardines in the can.

    I have cooked and eaten European carp, and the trick there is to use a pressure cooker so that all the small bones just dissolve.

    •  YUM! I'd love to eat at your place! eom (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, exterris

      "You do not have to be good...You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves." -Mary Oliver

      by hwy70scientist on Sun Jun 22, 2014 at 11:33:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wife and I are long time foodies, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar, flowerfarmer, hwy70scientist

        Have an organic farm, and eat well.

        Recipe for you,

        There is a product, called liquid Smoke. You can make your own  (hardwood only), or just buy it. The ingredients on the bottle I have, are water, hickory smoke.

        Sorry about the measurements, I have been using this prep so long that I just "eyeball" it,

        First the marinade,

        Mix equal amounts of dark soya sauce and brown sugar, (as needed) add a small amount of garlic, pepper and enough liquid smoke that you can smell it strongly,

        Place your servings of salmon, steelhead or interior, ( Redside or Kamloops) rainbow trout in a ziplock, add the marinade, suck the air out and seal it up, Gently massage the servings so that everything gets coated, refrigerate for 4 hours.

        Remove from bag, air dry, then cook.

        BBQ skin side down or fry in a hot pan until just cooked, then plate.

        Serve with a side of Jay salad, 2/3 "assorted weeds from the garden", ( assorted lettuces, new dandelion, baby spinach, pea greens and a smattering of English sorrel), the other third,  1/3 diced fresh mango, (best on the tangy side), 1/3 goat chèvre crumbled, 1/3 toasted and lightly salted sesame seeds,

        Top with a blackberry vinaigrette.

        Pairs well with dessert, double crust, 3/4 apple (golden transparent or orange cox pippen), 1/4 blackberry pie. No spice, a couple table spoons of tapioca to soak up the juice, a couple table spoons of sugar or honey to soften the tartness. Serve with a scoop of real vanilla ice cream, home made or bought.

  •  Asian carp? Oh, you mean... (0+ / 0-)

    the bountiful Heartland homefish, once used by Jesus to feed the multitude! I heard that the only reason we don't have massive subsidies to make use of these God-given creatures is because our Muslim president and certain atheist members of congress hate the Jesus fish, as it's also known.

    Could it be this easy? Okay, the Jesus fish is over the top, but we really need a paradigm shift regarding this resource/threat. And subsidies.

    One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain -Bob Marley

    by Darwinian Detritus on Mon Jun 23, 2014 at 07:08:08 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site