Community Organizer Brett Tolley writes:
"A fisherman recently told me he paid $.80 per pound to lease fish quota, or the rights to catch fish. That same day he only got paid 60 cents per pound when he landed the fish at the dock.
"He actually went into the red.
"And the worst part, he said, was knowing how that fish would end up being sold somewhere for $8-15 per pound to a customer who would believe a large chunk of that price went into the fisherman's pocket. "They will never know I lost money to catch and deliver that fish," he said. I wish they knew because if they did know, I'm certain our policies and discussions about 'sustainably' caught fish would be quite different.
"Family fishers increasingly feel the squeeze from all sides; markets that do not pay a price to cover the true cost of overhead, policies that place disproportionate hardships on the small and medium scale fishing operations, and unpredictable as weather stock assessments. All these challenges lead to shrinking profit margins, fishers taking on more risk and debt, and forcing many to either scale-up and catch more fish or sell out. If we are serious about protecting the ocean and rebuilding fish stocks scaling up is not the way.
" 'The management strategy of attack and exploit the resource and then buy out the struggling day-boat, is quickly paving the road to a big boat only fishery,' said a Massachusetts fisherman during a recent comment period.
"And he's right. When it comes to the business of removing fish from the ocean, the fishers that bring the most value to our communities, ecosystem, economy, and food system should be given the priority. Unfortunately current management policies do the opposite; they favor high volume fishing where whoever can catch the most, in the shortest amount of time, and at the cheapest price will win out the day. We are stuck in this old model that focuses on the lowest cost of producdtion as its foundational value. It's time to re-think our definition of efficiency and create a management system that inherently supports the fishermen who bring us the most overall value.
"When it comes to fishing in the red, of course we realize that sometimes fishers make money, sometimes they lose money, and at the end of the year you hope it all evens out. But the frequency of shrinking profit margins is increasing. As a case in point, another fisherman told me that last year his overhead cost to lease quota was between $30-40,000. For a fisherman of 25 years this was a new expense, and one that nearly exceeded his yearly income. "How am I supposed to make a living like that," he said. According to today's fisheries policies the answer is to scale up and catch more fish.
"But getting big or getting out should not be the only options for today's family fishers. We have learned from the industrialization of agriculture that a 'lowest cost of production' model does in fact bring us cheap food, but at the expense of poisoning our land ecology, displacing family farmers, and undermining a healthy food system. Let's ensure we do not repeat these mistakes and instead seek a new model that recognizes the full value that our producers and harvesters bring to the quadruple bottom line; social, environmental, economic, and food system."
I support local fishermen. For one thing, I feel it's the only way I can be confident that I'm getting what I think I'm buying. Oceana released its report on seafood fraud, Bait and Switch: How Seafood Fraud Hurts Our Oceans, Our Wallets and Our Health. The organization found that 20-25 percent of fish is typically mislabeled and on some occasions, as much as 70 percent, substituting cheap fish for expensive ones and overfished species as plentiful ones. The NY Times featured the report and added its own research.
The giant fishing companies and their factory ships and miles of nets have caused many problems for the oceans and the fish and seals that live in them. Small and local are the best ways to conserve ocean resources and promote responsible stewardship. They know that taking every last fish means fishing themselves out of a job. Corporate leadership doesn't care.