Like nearly every business over the past 30 years, fishing and aquaculture have had to adapt to increasing demands to protect the environment. It’s been a double-edged sword, decreasing efficiency in the short-term while ensuring an environment that can sustain fisheries in the long-term.
In some cases, it has meant shifting to techniques that aren’t the fishermen’s favorite. For instance, the most efficient technique for wild harvest is the otter trawl, but it also draws the most fire from environmentalists for the way it stirs up the ocean. The least efficient method is the hook and line, with numerous individual hooks spread across a long line. However, it is favored environmentally because it does the least to disturb the surrounding habitat.
Another example of environmental adaptation is the scallop fishery. At one point, the scallop fishery was closed across the entire George’s Bank – the area starting just southwest of New England that suffered from over-fishing in the mid-20th Century. The scallop fishery was closed to allow the yellowtail flounder and scallop resources to rebuild. To avoid a repeat of the circumstances leading up to that closure, the fishermen modified their gear so that the dredges did not drag along the bottom and pick up yellowtail as a by-catch.
As a result of that change, along with better data collection and effective management plans, the stocks of both yellowtail flounder and scallops made a comeback.
Sometimes, the changes forced upon the industry by environmental interests don’t achieve the goal the environmentalists had hoped for.
One such issue occurred in a movement to encourage American chefs to boycott swordfish. The high-quality swordfish harvested by the local long-line fleet rapidly lost market share to cheap imports from countries that allowed the harvest of fish that would have been considered below the legal size limit domestically. Ultimately, this led to the depletion of migratory breeding groups and a correlating decrease in swordfish stock. Finally, the federal government stepped in to prohibit the importation of the smaller fish.
Today’s successful fisherman knows the value of sound management plans and environmental regulations in safeguarding the future of the catch. Logic would dictate that fishermen want to keep the waters clean and avoid over-fishing to ensure the continuation of their catch. But logic often takes a back seat in the environmental debates about the industry, said Gregory DiDomenico of the Garden State Seafood Association.
“They believe this industry should be held to a standard where you have zero impact,” DiDomenico said of the members of large environmental groups, known as “enviros” to fishermen. “How can you do that? In your daily life, you can’t drive a car, use energy, create waste, consume things in your personal life without creating an impact. Then you