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It's Time to Consider Banning Commercial Fishing

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August 06, 2011
It's Time to Consider Banning Commercial Fishing - 11

Why is it illegal for me to sell wild venison, but I can go down to my local grocery store and buy fillets of wild Alaskan salmon?

Why can I walk into a restaurant and order ceviche made with wild tuna, but if I try to sell breasts from wild mallards to this same restaurant, I could be arrested?

Why is there such an accepted double standard between the commercialization of terrestrial wildlife and the market fishing for wild fish?

The issue is at the top of my mind following a cover story last month in Time magazine that detailed the promise and the pitfalls of aquaculture, or fish farming. The main point of the piece is that we humans are eating more fish than ever, which is a good thing, since fish are good for our health. But the increasing harvest pressure on wild fish stocks is unsustainable, and is motivating an increase in aquaculture for many of the most popular species.

The article’s author makes the point that fish are our “last wild food, but our oceans are being picked clean.” And he asks the question: “Can farming fish take the place of catching them?”

It occurs to me that our ancestors asked ourselves the same question about wild water buffalo in Indonesia some 8,000 years ago. And about wild boars in Slovenia more than 5,000 years ago. And about wild guinea fowl in Africa about 4,500 years ago. In those cases, we decided it made more sense to domesticate these animals than it did to hunt them.

Once we developed industrial economies, so that most of us had to buy our food instead of hunting or farming for it, our transition to market agriculture was complete. Except for one loophole. There was still a profit motive for hunters who killed more than they could eat, thanks to a market for relatively cheap meat from deer, moose, grouse, turkey and ducks.

A century ago, far-sighted conservationists realized that if we continued to keep market hunting for wild animals, those species would likely disappear. Out of that concern came our ironclad prohibition on market hunting for wildlife, one of the foundations for the modern wildlife conservation movement. We recognized pretty quickly—though not quickly enough for species like the passenger pigeon—that the fastest way to drive a species to extinction is to commercially hunt for it.

So why has it taken us this long to recognize that we can’t keep gillnetting for salmon, or long-lining for tuna, or purse-netting for anchovies, if we want to conserve those species?

At least one reason is the pervasive power of the market. Even suggesting that we limit commercial fishing of some species will have everyone who reads this spitting venom. That includes the web of companies that profit from wild-caught salmon, the restaurants that profit from cooking it for paying customers, the huge industry that has built up around netting, gutting, freezing and shipping wild-caught sardines and halibut and lobster and clams. There are billions of dollars and thousands of jobs at stake. But it also includes those of us who love a Copper River salmon steak on a summer grill but who don’t have the time or the means to go to Alaska and catch one with a hook and line.

It’s time we realized that the ocean is not infinite, and its contents are perishable. It’s the same recognition that saved our bison, our antelope, our geese and our grouse.

It’s time we started discussing a future in which the only wild seafood we eat is that which we catch ourselves.

That’s tough to swallow for those of us who love eating wild fish, but the only way to save some of the most commercially valuable species may be to make them off limits to the market.

It worked for our deer and birds. Maybe it will also work for our salmon and sea bass.

What do you think? Should we have different rules for wild animals that live on land versus those that swim in the sea? Or should we outlaw the sale of wild fish?

Photo: Hirata

Comments (11)

Top Rated
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from gmbhunter wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Allowing only "sportfishing" is great if you live in California/Florida or any one of the coastal states-- but what about all the people who live in the interior of the country. Eating seafood would be limited to only those near the coasts or the wealthy who could afford such a luxury to enjoy seafood. Recognize that a great deal of our seafood today is farm raised-----shrimp from Asia, Catfish, Tilapia and Salmon in the US and South America.
Yes we need to regulate the catches from the ocean,,,,but that starts at home, not just other nations.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Good discussion, folks. I was being deliberately provocative, but Dances With Deer brings up the point that I was hoping to reach: yes, oceans are vast, but their resources are finite. Remember, that was the same mindset that let us nearly wipe out buffalo - the prairies are vast - and some waterfowl species - the skies are vast. If you track the trajectories of our consumption of wild fish and our swelling population, then you have to conclude there's no way for the oceans to keep up with demand. The same fundamentals of conservation that have worked for terrestrial wildlife should be applied to marine species. Commercialization of wildlife shouldn't stop at the water's edge.

Andrew McKean

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kevin Naze wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Sensationalism from Time. The oceans are vast, the catch regulated in many if not most cases. There are millions of fish that never even see a net. Thank God for commercial fishermen, as millions of people don't have the desire or in some cases, means, to catch their own fish. Many believe that farmed fish lacks the flavor of wild-caught in almost all cases, and I am one of them, having tried farm-raised perch, salmon and trout. None came close to the flavor of wild. Netting is rarely easy work. Lucrative, sure. But no way would most of us ever want to do it on the ocean. Give these guys some credit. And no way are fish comparable to big game, small game, game birds or waterfowl, as far as commercial sale goes.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from pineywoods wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Well put, Yoda. If there is any doubt that commercial fishermen will virtually destroy a fishery, look at what fish traps did to reef fish populations in the Keys before Florida came to its senses and banned them. Drifting, unattended gill nets catch, kill and keep on killing as long as they are in the water and there are irresponsible fishermen who simple dump damaged nets overboard to dispose of them. I've been there and seen it. Look at what longliners have done to the billfish population off Ecuador---I've seen that, too. Peoople are hungry for protein from the sea and for the money from the sale of that protein and won't regulate themselves. Commercial fishermen the world over need to be kept on a leash---they need limits just like us sports fishermen.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Yoda wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Commercial fishing can be conducted in a responsible and sustainable manner. There may be limits in place in many places but what happens is that other countries do not have or will not enforce their regulation on the industry, which ends up giving the fisherman from countries that do enforce regulations the short rod if you will. Until there is global enforcement any commercial fish species that migrates or has overlapping ranges with various countries there is great potential of complete collapse of specific species. Look at Atlantic salmon, new Englanders can't fish for them commercially or for sport, yet over the border in Canada you can fish for sport but it is heavily regulated. When you go to the store and they are peddling wild caught salmon, usually a little tag at the end of that sign that says from Canada or Greenland, you won't see a "product of the USA" on any of those signs unless they are lying to ya, or it's farm raised.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from zeek wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Regulate heavily by all nations? Are you proposing the U.N. or something like them telling us how and when to fish? Poppycock.
Most places have harvest limits, have had for decades seems to be working.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from pineywoods wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Commercial fisheries can and will devastate fish stock given the opportunity. Witness the collapse of the cod fishery on the Grand Banks and the dangerous overfishing of redfish in the Gulf of Mexico following the blackened fish craze.

Wild fish stocks can be successfully fished commercially only if there is some enforceable method of controlling and limiting the catch. Otherewise, the attitude is, "If I don't catch them, somebody else will."

The key sentence in the article is, "--the increasing harvest pressure on wild fish stocks is unsustainable." It wasn't all that long ago that canned salmon was cheaper than dog food. Good luck finding cheap salmon now.

Technology is such that an unregulated commercial fishery is efficient enough to send some species into virtual extinction. Some methods of commercial fishing are very damaging to the marine ecosystem, such as bottom dragging for reef species which kills coral and other live bottom abitat, and shrimping which kills tons and tons of juvenile fish as a bycatch---and it's just shoveled overboard and not even used for cat food.

We don't have to completely do away with commercial fishing, but we do have to regulate it heavily, and it has to be done by all nations. It doesn't do much good for the U.S. to regulate its fishermen when the Japs and Russkies are sending in their factory ships.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from charlie elk wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

No one should believe an emotional sensationalized magazine like Time. Like a comic book it may be entertaining but neither contain reliable information.
A salmon lays 3,000 - 7,500 eggs.
A game bird lays 5-12 eggs.
Small game animal has a litter of 3-8.
A big game animal has 1 or twins if conditions are right.
Given the reproduction capacity difference of fish and land game why would anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of game management think they should be managed the same?
later,
charlie

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from PickingTrash wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Fillets of Alaska salmon are in your supermarket because the annual return from the ocean is about 200 million more fish than are needed for spawning and you sports can't possibly catch them all. Without commercial fishing, they would go to waste. You should get a clue. Even Time magazine recognized this.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from mesarich wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I would be skeptical of anything I read in time magazine. It is a very liberal news magazine. I would not be surprised to see an article about how wild animals should not be hunted in that magazine. Take anything you read there with a grain of salt.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from bass bomber wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I agree, stop commercial fishing (not on invasive carp and snakeheads) and just farm our fish.

-3 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

from mesarich wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I would be skeptical of anything I read in time magazine. It is a very liberal news magazine. I would not be surprised to see an article about how wild animals should not be hunted in that magazine. Take anything you read there with a grain of salt.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from PickingTrash wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Fillets of Alaska salmon are in your supermarket because the annual return from the ocean is about 200 million more fish than are needed for spawning and you sports can't possibly catch them all. Without commercial fishing, they would go to waste. You should get a clue. Even Time magazine recognized this.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from charlie elk wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

No one should believe an emotional sensationalized magazine like Time. Like a comic book it may be entertaining but neither contain reliable information.
A salmon lays 3,000 - 7,500 eggs.
A game bird lays 5-12 eggs.
Small game animal has a litter of 3-8.
A big game animal has 1 or twins if conditions are right.
Given the reproduction capacity difference of fish and land game why would anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of game management think they should be managed the same?
later,
charlie

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kevin Naze wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Sensationalism from Time. The oceans are vast, the catch regulated in many if not most cases. There are millions of fish that never even see a net. Thank God for commercial fishermen, as millions of people don't have the desire or in some cases, means, to catch their own fish. Many believe that farmed fish lacks the flavor of wild-caught in almost all cases, and I am one of them, having tried farm-raised perch, salmon and trout. None came close to the flavor of wild. Netting is rarely easy work. Lucrative, sure. But no way would most of us ever want to do it on the ocean. Give these guys some credit. And no way are fish comparable to big game, small game, game birds or waterfowl, as far as commercial sale goes.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from gmbhunter wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Allowing only "sportfishing" is great if you live in California/Florida or any one of the coastal states-- but what about all the people who live in the interior of the country. Eating seafood would be limited to only those near the coasts or the wealthy who could afford such a luxury to enjoy seafood. Recognize that a great deal of our seafood today is farm raised-----shrimp from Asia, Catfish, Tilapia and Salmon in the US and South America.
Yes we need to regulate the catches from the ocean,,,,but that starts at home, not just other nations.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from pineywoods wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Commercial fisheries can and will devastate fish stock given the opportunity. Witness the collapse of the cod fishery on the Grand Banks and the dangerous overfishing of redfish in the Gulf of Mexico following the blackened fish craze.

Wild fish stocks can be successfully fished commercially only if there is some enforceable method of controlling and limiting the catch. Otherewise, the attitude is, "If I don't catch them, somebody else will."

The key sentence in the article is, "--the increasing harvest pressure on wild fish stocks is unsustainable." It wasn't all that long ago that canned salmon was cheaper than dog food. Good luck finding cheap salmon now.

Technology is such that an unregulated commercial fishery is efficient enough to send some species into virtual extinction. Some methods of commercial fishing are very damaging to the marine ecosystem, such as bottom dragging for reef species which kills coral and other live bottom abitat, and shrimping which kills tons and tons of juvenile fish as a bycatch---and it's just shoveled overboard and not even used for cat food.

We don't have to completely do away with commercial fishing, but we do have to regulate it heavily, and it has to be done by all nations. It doesn't do much good for the U.S. to regulate its fishermen when the Japs and Russkies are sending in their factory ships.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from zeek wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Regulate heavily by all nations? Are you proposing the U.N. or something like them telling us how and when to fish? Poppycock.
Most places have harvest limits, have had for decades seems to be working.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Yoda wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Commercial fishing can be conducted in a responsible and sustainable manner. There may be limits in place in many places but what happens is that other countries do not have or will not enforce their regulation on the industry, which ends up giving the fisherman from countries that do enforce regulations the short rod if you will. Until there is global enforcement any commercial fish species that migrates or has overlapping ranges with various countries there is great potential of complete collapse of specific species. Look at Atlantic salmon, new Englanders can't fish for them commercially or for sport, yet over the border in Canada you can fish for sport but it is heavily regulated. When you go to the store and they are peddling wild caught salmon, usually a little tag at the end of that sign that says from Canada or Greenland, you won't see a "product of the USA" on any of those signs unless they are lying to ya, or it's farm raised.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from pineywoods wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Well put, Yoda. If there is any doubt that commercial fishermen will virtually destroy a fishery, look at what fish traps did to reef fish populations in the Keys before Florida came to its senses and banned them. Drifting, unattended gill nets catch, kill and keep on killing as long as they are in the water and there are irresponsible fishermen who simple dump damaged nets overboard to dispose of them. I've been there and seen it. Look at what longliners have done to the billfish population off Ecuador---I've seen that, too. Peoople are hungry for protein from the sea and for the money from the sale of that protein and won't regulate themselves. Commercial fishermen the world over need to be kept on a leash---they need limits just like us sports fishermen.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from HuntingEditor wrote 2 years 36 weeks ago

Good discussion, folks. I was being deliberately provocative, but Dances With Deer brings up the point that I was hoping to reach: yes, oceans are vast, but their resources are finite. Remember, that was the same mindset that let us nearly wipe out buffalo - the prairies are vast - and some waterfowl species - the skies are vast. If you track the trajectories of our consumption of wild fish and our swelling population, then you have to conclude there's no way for the oceans to keep up with demand. The same fundamentals of conservation that have worked for terrestrial wildlife should be applied to marine species. Commercialization of wildlife shouldn't stop at the water's edge.

Andrew McKean

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from bass bomber wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

I agree, stop commercial fishing (not on invasive carp and snakeheads) and just farm our fish.

-3 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment (200 characters or less)

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