MSC Reviews Gulf Menhaden Fishery For Label

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a private labeling enterprise that reviews fisheries worldwide for certification to their standards. Companies seeking certification for their fisheries pay a fee to the MSC for review and certification. Fisheries are rarely entirely denied the label, though some fisheries have been given conditional certification if they make certain changes or improvements. Whether the label does or does not actually represent “sustainability” in fishing, the MSC label is one of the few that consumers often recognize on seafood, in large part due to intensive outreach and marketing. Name recognition may encourage shoppers to buy MSC labeled seafood.

Over recent months, MSC has been reviewing the Gulf menhaden fishery at the request of Omega Protein. Most people are not familiar with menhaden, (aka “pogies”in the Gulf). This is because menhaden is mostly a bait and reduction fishery – meaning menhaden aren’t eaten directly by people as an entree – most are “reduced” to fish oil and fishmeal for use in pet feed, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals (like fish oil pills) among other products and some is used directly as bait for catching other fish. Menhaden is the second largest fishery by weight in the United States, with over 1 billion pounds caught annually from the Gulf of Mexico.

Menhaden have been called the “most important fish in the sea”. These small fish are critical to the ecosystem – many larger fish in the Gulf rely on them as food, as do marine mammals like dolphins, and sea birds. They also are filter feeders so they can help maintain the quality of Gulf waters.

Menhaden are caught using spotter planes and encircling nets – so anything near the school of fish – like dolphins, sharks, and other fish, might get caught and killed too when the entire school of fish is scooped up and pulled in. The unintentional catch of other marine life is called “bycatch”. The menhaden industry itself acknowledges about a 1-3 percent “bycatch” rate, which sounds like not much, but considering over a billion pounds of menhaden are pulled from the Gulf each year, that means about 1-3 million pounds of bycatch annually, along with it.

The menhaden industry in the Gulf is just two companies – so most information is considered “confidential” – people cannot get enough good information about the fishery to know whether it could be considered sustainable or not. It is therefore difficult to support any MSC certification when there is little current publicly available information to confirm it.

Also concerning, is that there is no catch cap on Gulf menhaden except in Texas state waters. So companies can catch as much of these fish as they are able. Gulf menhaden are caught mainly in Louisiana waters and the rest in Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. Menhaden are also caught in the Atlantic, where there is an annual limit. This means that companies could reach the annual catch cap in the Atlantic, and then go fish more in the Gulf.

With a current push for more aquaculture in the U.S., there may be a rise in need for menhaden to feed the farmed fish. Also, getting an MSC certification might increase sales of menhaden, and products with menhaden in them, to those who would think it is more sustainable than other sources once it has the MSC label.

We are now waiting for MSC’s decision on Gulf menhaden.

Learn more about Gulf menhaden here.

Feds Consider Endangered Species Act Protection for Pacific Bluefin Tuna

In June, the Recirculating Farms Coalition, along with various other organizations petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect Pacific Bluefin Tuna under the Endangered Species Act, because the total population has plummeted to about 3% of its initial size. The effort, let by the Center for Biological Diversity, has resulted in the federal agency publishing a notice that the petition contains important scientific information and the requested action – listing Pacific Bluefin Tuna – may now happen soon. There is a 60-day period, open now, for the public to send in comments. Tell the Feds to save Pacific Bluefin Tuna and sign the CBD’s pledge that also asks restaurants to stop serving this depleted fish.

Long Time Fish/Fishing Advocate Zeke Grader

givegraderA tireless advocate for fisheries and fishing families, Zeke Grader, died the night of September 7th.  And we all – no matter whether you loved, or loved to hate his messages – will miss him, his passion and genuine concern for the world we share. Learn more about Zeke, in an article from the party where he was honored for his life long advocacy, earlier this year.

I first met Zeke when an unusual coalition of people from all around the U.S. involved in fisheries – both commercial and recreational fishing groups, environmental advocates, scientists, lawyers and more (normally most of these people wouldn’t even speak to each other) – came together to jointly promote changes to the nation’s main fisheries law, the Magnuson Stevens Act. It was no small feat, getting all these opinionated, notoriously adversarial people in a room to work on a common project.

Zeke was one of the group, and right away, I noticed he was serious about these issues, straightforward in his manner, and given the temperature in the room, brave about speaking up. He didn’t care what people thought of him – he cared that people thought about his issues and his position on them. His constant energy and famously entertaining quotes got him spots on big time TV like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Sean Hannity Show, and also in many newspapers nationwide for years and years, raising awareness about important fisheries issues that likely otherwise would have been passed over.

I then learned Zeke was also a lawyer. Some people (mainly those he outsmarted in some political arena) would snarkily say “He’s a lawyer who thinks he’s a fisherman.” Turns out, he was really a fisherman who went to law school and was therefore better able to advocate for his friends, neighbors and fellow fishing families – oh, and the fish too. He was all about making sure our floppy friends went on living and reproducing for many years to come. I genuinely believe there would be no Pacific salmon today, but for the many efforts of Zeke Grader and friends.

His positive impacts were felt far and wide – in fact, Zeke helped create the Recirculating Farms Coalition.

One hot issue during the years that our unlikely coalition continued working together was development of fish farms in the ocean around the U.S. These would be giant floating cages filled with fish. There are a number of concerns with such an industry, including pollution from fish waste and excess fish feed falling through the cages, escapes of captive fish into the wild, intermixing with and perhaps causing illness or altering genetics of wild fish, the actual space these huge farms take up – making navigation and other problems for shipping, fishing and other ocean industries. And, notably, that these massive industrial farms can produce cheap fish – undercutting prices of seafood and hurting fishing families. Needless to say, Zeke was no fan.

We worked together to stop efforts to allow ocean fish farms in U.S. waters. Zeke had a lot of experience in the political arena and was happy to share and teach. He was an amazing mentor. When we were asked about what could be an acceptable alternative to ocean fish farms – we put forth recirculating fish farms (also called recirculating aquaculture) – the idea that fish could be produced on land in tanks in an eco-friendly way that didn’t hurt the ocean, or our fishing families.

Because recirculating farms are entirely closed loop – they recirculate waste and water within their own system, so a wide range of fish could be raised – especially those that do not conflict with what local fishermen catch. There is no pollution of the surrounding environment and no possibility of escapes. Additionally, turns out you can combine recirculating fish farming with hydroponics – raising plants in water – to create an amazing, innovative farming system, known as aquaponics. Support for this concept as an alternative to ocean fish farms grew – and Recirculating Farms Coalition was born.

Of course there is much more to this story all around – both relative to Zeke as an advocate and to the creation of RFC, but it would take pages and pages more to go through all the details. Rather than drag on, I’ll follow Zeke’s advice to me long ago – “keep it simple, so people understand.”

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Zeke when he was waxing poetic about the proposed ocean aquaculture bill that we ultimately killed in Congress many years ago. He told a reporter that he could sum up the bill in two words, “It sucks”. Couldn’t be any simpler, and that’s exactly what was printed in the paper the next morning.

That’s exactly how I feel about Zeke’s far-too-early departure too.

Marianne Cufone

Canada Embraces Recirculating Farming

Recirculating aquaculture is getting the spotlight early in 2014 with Canada announcing a new Vancouver Island facility that is raising salmon commercially in a completely land-based system. The new endeavor has created much discussion about how recirculating farms are changing the landscape for farming across the continent and that open water aquaculture should be a thing of the past.

For far too long, ocean fish farming has been a serious concern, with documented negative ecological impacts. Recirculating farms are not only a more sustainable alternative for the environment, they also provide access to local, fresh fish in places where previously there was none, such as the Canadian prairies.

In March, the first batch of salmon from this new on-land Canadian fish farm will be ready for market. Read more about the project and Canada’s new aquaculture developments.

Holidays, Recipes and Recirculating Farms

Holidays often evoke images of gathering with family and friends, and cooking and eating fun, delicious food.

Two weeks back, we discussed the incredible variety of food and plants that come from recirculating farms.  So why not include them in your holiday plans? These farms produce some of our favorite vegetables – like peppers and salad greens; also, legumes, fruits and a huge assortment of herbs. Aquaponic and aquaculture farms can grow a variety of fish too. Recirculating farms even grow flowers and decorative “trees” (see our Facebook post on this here) – so they can help you decorate your table and home!

Recently, we caught up with one of our chef friends, Elliott Prag, from the Natural Gourmet Institute, a culinary school in Manhattan, New York that focuses on health supportive cooking. He gave us recipes for amazing dishes to use this holiday season and beyond, that feature some of our favorite recirculating farm items.

Recirculating farms can help you make the holidays special with fresh local ingredients for your meals and decorations! Please support your local farmers!