Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ethically correct fish and fishing

Can a fishery be sustainable if customers waste the fish? That's the provocative question raised by scientists Daniel Pauly and Jennifer Jaquet in their critique of the Peruvian anchoveta fishery. Pauly and Jacquet say it's wasteful and wrong to use anchovies for fishmeal instead of feeding people, so it would be wrong to certify the fishery as sustainable.

For me, this stretches too far the definition of sustainable fishing. It's already difficult to find consensus around the definition of sustainable fisheries when it's just about fishing. But this messy debate gets far worse if we include issues like what happens to the fish.

Sustainability should be about not catching too many fish, limiting bycatch, and protecting habitat. We can, and do, debate the proper benchmarks for overfishing and bycatch limits. But if we get into debates about ethical uses of fish, there is no limit to the issues that someone may want to include.

Today, Pauly and Jacquet criticize feeding fish to animals not people. What's the next complaint about how fish get used? Are high-priced fish unsustainable because they're just for the privileged wealthy? Is it a problem to waste fish in processing or preparation? Is a fishery unsustainable if mercury levels in the fish are too high? Can you lose your sustainability certificate if you run a good fishery but the people who buy your fish do bad things?

Certification of fishery sustainability by the Marine Stewardship Council addresses some ethical issues. But it's a mistake to attempt to use the MSC process to address every perceived ethical problem in the seafood supply chain.


The Earl of Grey said...

Agreed. That said, I work as a fishmonger, do everything I can to order fish from sustainable fisheries, and also do everything in my power to make sure that none of what I bring in gets wasted. That is my responsibility, however, and shouldn't affect the fisheries themselves.

Gail "Kayak Sue" Burek said...

I can only imagine what they would say to my husband who feeds our bull frogs shrimp!

Anonymous said...

You're right, the important questions are about overall sustainability of the fishery, not the intended use. But, efficient use of the fish meal is important. Fish oil used to be used just for energy and not for food at all, so I would suggest that evolution of use has been a good one.

If Mr. Pauly is so confident that 5 million tonnes of anchovy and other "toilet brush" fish can be sold directly to hungery consumers, then perhaps he should put his money where his palegic mouth is - open up a franchise and call it "McHerring's" "Anchovy King". I'll give it 6 months max!

Eric Heupel said...

Completely agree! I think Dr. Pauly is muddying the waters dangerously. The MSC charter is about identifying biologically & ecologically sustainable fisheries, not what to do with the fish once caught. Here he is taking them to task for socio-economic policy issues. Not their job. I agree MSC has made some controversial calls, but the recent allegations that they are in bed with industry (recently said with overtones of green washing by one of the co-authors of the article) I think are a bit much.

tshilson said...

I agree with others that this additional argument clouds and confuses the issue. Let's keep "sustainability" as a fisheries management (husbandry, stewardship) issue, not a use issue.

The usage issue is important and worth discussing, but shouldn't hinder progress on sustainability. (BTW, can't set good policy if you can't measure it!)

I just wanted to point out that some people, in order to not have to face an issue, will keep bringing up new issues until the problem becomes too complex to handle -- it is called Fogging. (Not accusing anyone.) Let's not let that happen here.

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Stanley said...

Yes, i agree also. He is muddying the waters dangerously.They have to stop.

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