ARE DECLINING FISH SPECIES GETTING BATTERED
The number of different ‘good fish guides’ published recently has muddied the water to some extent on what we should consider sustainable. But the information contained within them must give us pause for thought. According to Forest and Bird the highest-ranking fisheries representing the best seafood choices are anchovies, pilchards and sprats. So at the very least they provide a chilling warning of what we will be reduced to eating if we don’t get our act together.
Hoki is a great example of the complexities involved. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which is supported by the environmental organisation WWF, has certified New Zealand’s entire hoki fishery as sustainable since 2001. New Zealand’s Seafood Industry Council says hoki has never been overfished and is one of the best-managed fish stocks in the world. But Greenpeace and Forest and Bird have added hoki to their ‘Red Lists’ of unsustainable fish that consumers should avoid. These organisations point to, among other things, the decline in the Western Hoki stock, catching of juvenile fish, the destruction caused to ocean ecology by bottom trawling and bycatch of fur seals, threatened bird species and globally threatened basking sharks. Greenpeace has even gone so far as to say that in their opinion no fully credible certification system for sustainable seafood currently exists.
In response, MSC spokesman Patrick Caleo defended the rigour of MSC processes, and pointed out that Forest and Bird is a member of MSC’S stakeholder council. Which really leaves the shopper at the shelves wondering who to trust.
At least some decisions seem clearer cut. One of the most popular and recognisable fish in the watery naughty corner in every sustainable fish guide element came across is orange roughy, also known as Deepsea perch, sea perch or, appetisingly, slimehead. The U.S. is the main importer of orange roughy, and New Zealand is the main supplier.
The concerns include claims that populations are now at most one third of what they were before commercial fishing began and some populations may have been reduced to just three per cent of their prefishing numbers. Orange roughy is also believed to be a slow breeding fish, meaning stocks take a relatively long time to replenish and the deep sea trawling that catches them destroys seabed habitats.
But they are still fished by all three major fishing companies, which maintain sufficient controls to provide a sustainable yield are in place and are understandably reluctant to abandon or severely restrict lucrative fisheries.
Partly this is because of the risk this will simply leave them open for other, often less scrupulous, fleets to exploit. A government joint ministerial inquiry into the use of foreign chartered boats to fish quota in New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone is due to report back in the next few days. The inquiry follows reports of quota violations, unseaworthy ships, filthy living conditions on board, and even human rights abuses.
Five Korean men are currently facing charges of aiding the dumping of undersize fish, and dishonestly reporting the catch. Last August the 38-year-old Oyang 70 sank, killing six, and in December’s 22 fishermen were killed when the 31-year-old No.1 Insung, operating out of Bluff, sank in the Ross Sea between New Zealand and Antarctica.
Regulating the people working out on the high seas may prove to be at least as important and difficult an issue as protecting the fish stocks they harvest.