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.

RFC Builds Farm to Feed Homeless in NOLA

What a great week we had here at RFC in New Orleans! We initiated our partnership with the New Orleans Mission, an organization dedicated to supporting the homeless in our city. We installed raised garden beds at the Mission’s Women’s House and many of the women residing there were excited to get involved. Check out the story WGNO ran about it.

When our work in the garden was done, we picked some of the sweet limes and rosemary that were already growing there and made fresh rosemary limeade. We all enjoyed getting to know each other. We’ll be spending more time together in the coming months, as we’ll host gardening and health supportive cooking classes at the Mission regularly now.

Next up – a new garden for the Mission gents too and an urban farmer training program! Stay tuned.

 

Organics and Earth Day

At its meeting in Colorado on April 21, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory committee to the USDA National Organic Program, had a long discussion about whether hydroponic and aquaponic farms could keep USDA Organic certification. The Board reviewed what the term “Organic” means in the United States and other countries. The largest debate is over whether “Organic” requires soil, but there was little mention about other efficient resource use.

Hydroponics and aquaponics are sustainable systems and they are important for the future of agriculture because they reuse waste and water, they can use less energy, they can run on alternative energy, they are space efficient, they are versatile and today, organics should be about more than soil. It should be about the whole picture. We should be looking to improve our planet and these types of farms at their very core are eco-efficient.

It was especially ironic that the NOSB was considering pulling Organic certification from such highly eco-friendly farms on the day before Earth Day. Fortunately, the Board recognized that it needed more information before making such a crucial decision, and deferred their final recommendation until its next meeting in the Fall, and possibly even longer.

RFC member farmers, including Michael Hasey of The Farming Fish in Oregon (who brought pesto from his farm for the board and attendees to sample), also attended the meeting and provided comments and information to the NOSB.  Tawnya Sawyer of Colorado Aquaponics offered NOSB members a tour of her facility at The GrowHaus there in Denver.  A number of the board members participated.

Click here to see the statement RFC’s Executive Director, Marianne Cufone, released to the media on Friday, and click here for RFC’s comments to the NOSB.

RFC ED Chosen for Grist 50 List!

We are SO excited – our ED, Marianne Cufone, was selected to be on the 2nd ever Grist 50 list. Announced today, the Grist 50 is a new annual list that highlights who’s hot in the national green movement. Meet all 50 of this year’s “fixers”.

Each year, Grist searches for inspiring innovators and do-ers working on fresh solutions to the planet’s biggest problems. The result is a collection of 50 leaders who are building a sustainable world that works for everyone. Solutions come in many shapes and sizes: exciting technologies, smart campaigns, forward-thinking legislation, innovative products, courageous organizations. As do solutionaries: entrepreneurs, comedians, farmers, activists, scholars, scientists, and more. The Grist 50 shows what a vibrant, diverse sustainability movement looks like. Last year’s inaugural list reached and inspired nearly 6 million readers! Check it out!

It’s Gotta Have Soul!

Tony Griffith casualMost black families I know strongly believe the way you season food comes from your soul. It’s the heart and love of the cook that makes the meal special. In my own family, “If it ain’t spicy, it ain’t good.” When I was a little boy, and I would be punished, usually for making too much noise, it was off to a chair in the kitchen, where my grandmother would be cooking for the family. This wasn’t really punishment to me, but it did keep me in one place so I couldn’t get into more trouble. I will never forget what seemed like magic, in my grandmother’s kitchen. There would be a pot on every burner, steam clouds to the ceiling, and always something boiling over (usually rice). My grandmother reminded me (as I look back) of a music conductor. If something steams too much, lower the fire or if something boils over, take the lid off or take the lid off AND lower the fire – you get the gist. In any case, she conducted her cooking and tended to it as seriously as if she was babysitting the most fragile and littlest of her grandkids. Food smoke and cloud puffs filled the ceiling and made for quite a scene. It would literally take her all day to get the entire meal prepared. The gas stove in my grandmother’s house would burn from AM to PM and then some, depending on what was on the menu that day. I recall we always had some sort of bean – red, kidney, white or butter. It was always the main course, over rice, with usually a variety of side meats – pickled, smoked or both.

My grandmother had a small garden in the backyard, before it was trendy, as did most of her neighbors. There she grew peppers, tomatoes and of course chayote (or as we say, mirliton). If she didn’t have something fresh in the garden, a trip to the Circle Food store was needed. This usually involved a series of buses to get across town. Making groceries, then loaded with bags, boarding a bus, and then another, or sometimes more, and then walking about a mile with both arms full of food for the family, to get back home and cook. Worth it? I don’t remember any leftovers!