Environmentalist backing U.S. swordfish industry
September 19, 2011
The swordfish industry has been painted as a fleet of fishermen determined to troll the oceans with their “curtains of death,” or gill nets, in order to capture the magnificent fish at the deathly expense of migrating turtles, dolphins and whales. [CaliforniaWatch]
However, government officials and one very powerful and influential environmental group say that picture is inaccurate. They want the government to consider expanding, or at least reevaluating, the West Coast fishery, California Watch said.
“We’d like to help the public understand that while we want to protect turtles, it may be a time to take a broader or more holistic view” of the fishery, said Chuck Cook, director of the coastal and marine program with The Nature Conservancy in California.
The California swordfish fishery has declined drastically in the past 20 years, falling from a peak of 130 fishing permits in 1992 to just 39 today, Cook told California Watch.
And of those 39, only 15 are active, said Kathy Fosmark, a third-generation fisherwoman in California, and co-founder of the Monterey-based Alliance of Communities for Sustainable Fisheries told California Watch.
A 214,000-square-mile no-fishing zone stretching from Point Conception in the south to Newport, Ore. in the north is being blamed on the decline.
Nevertheless, the United States remains the largest swordfish consuming country in the world.
Cook, of the Nature Conservancy, told California Watch the U.S. imports roughly 75 percent of its swordfish from “unregulated and unobserved industries with high bycatch rates, much higher than the heavily regulated and observed fleets in the United States.”
“Bycatch” refers to animals that are incidentally taken in a net, such as turtles, sea mammals, birds and other non-targeted fish species.
In the United States, fleets are required to have an observer on board, report their catch and any incidental take (or bycatch), and use special gear to minimize contact with air-breathing animals such as turtles, dolphins and whales.
Currently, the swordfish population is very large and according to a 2009 assessment of the fishery, the population was 30 percent above the target level.
“This is a well-adapted, apex predator that feeds on small fish and large fish, like tuna. They grow rapidly … and are extremely resilient to fishing,” Jon Brodziak, a scientist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, told California Watch.
Even so, several groups would still like to see U.S. swordfish industry prohibitions.
Representative from the Pacific Fisheries Management Council stress the danger gill netting poses to marine animals, and asked the council to invest in harpoon fishing instead.
Ben Enticknap, the Pacific Project Manager for Oceana, said the federal government should simply restrict imports from nations that don’t have good fishing practices.
“They have the tools to restrict imports,” he told California Watch, adding that would solve the consumers’ dilemma of buying unregulated swordfish.