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.


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8 Comments

  1. mrcyberdoc says:

    Interesting how they fish for swords on the west coast. On the east coast they use 20-40 mile lines with drop lines at certain intervals and catch them on dead bait. Why can’t the west coast fisherman do the same and avoid the nets all together.

    (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
    • Typoqueen says:

      I have no idea what you’re talking about but if it means no nets then I’m all for it.

      (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
  2. WiseGuy says:

    Although it may have not been the intention of its founders back in the 1950s, today the Nature Conservancy is simply an organization set up to help corporations trade a few “do-good” environmental gestures in exchange for harming the environment in other ways.

    Think about it: When companies get to or are expected to “protect” an acre of pristine land and habitat for every acre they destroy, it sounds good in shallow news reports. But the net effect of this “system/shitstem” is an unending process of environmental destruction, despite the “feel good” stories.

    What the heck is an “environmental” group anyway? If you would believe their TV ads, every oil corporation in America is an “environmental” organization.

    (-1) 13 Total Votes - 6 up - 7 down
  3. Vagabond says:

    Simply restricting imports to the US doesn’t always work, Take the Orange Roughy situation, before anyone in the US started becoming concerned they were nearly fished to extinction. One thing that folks in the US can do is broaden their acceptance of more types of fish. Sardines were nearly wiped out by overfishing on the West Coast which caused the near total collapse of the fishery, now huge schools are just offshore, but there is no demand or boats set up to catch them except bait boats, same with anchovy. Ever had fresh sardine grilled in olive oil Mediterranean style?Surf perch makes the best ceviche. There are lots of options, but most folks never even try them.

    (1) 7 Total Votes - 4 up - 3 down
  4. Typoqueen says:

    “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.”

    I agree with Mr. Enticknap. Those big nets don’t discriminate, we should do everything in our power to eliminate them.

    (0) 10 Total Votes - 5 up - 5 down
  5. Side_Show_Bob says:

    Right on the money, racket. A scenario that is so typical for our US fisheries. It’s a very good thing that some common sense is being brought to this issue.

    (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
  6. racket says:

    The Nature Conservancy has taken a sensible position on this issue.

    Many could learn a lot from this pragmatic assessment of the bycatch issue: that hamstringing those that play by the rules (or those that you can regulate) ALWAYS leads to an unfair advantage for those you cannot regulate.

    (12) 14 Total Votes - 13 up - 1 down
    • johnthefarmer says:

      And it is no different than what our California farmers fight everyday with year around import of fruits and vegetables – “hamstringing those that play by the rules always leads to an unfair advantage for those you cannot regulate.”

      (8) 8 Total Votes - 8 up - 0 down

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