While things look bleak for cod populations in the United States, particularly on Georges Bank and in the Gulf of Maine where late last month regulators slashed quotas for these beleaguered stocks, cod off of Norway and Russia are providing an encouraging example of the fish’s resilience when managed wisely.
As Reuters reports this week, fishermen in the far north are enjoying a boom in cod fishing where “the quota off northern Norway and Russia is a record 1.02 million metric tonnes, up a third from 2012 and six times as high as in 1990.”
The article credits both global warming for expanding the fish’s range northwards, but also the strict management of quotas issued from Oslo and Moscow.
We are excited about two big wins this week for the future of fish in New England.
The first is a major legal victory that establishes the first full count, cap, and control fishery in the Northeast. This lawsuit settlement means that the New England groundfish fishery, which catches Atlantic cod, haddock and flounder, among others, must strictly account for how much fish it’s catching and discarding. Groundfish have been severely overfished, and this new ruling is an important step in establishing more sustainable fishing practices in the region.
Oceana has been campaigning for years to establish science-based monitoring of this historically overfished region of the U.S. Oceana won a legal victory in 2010 when a federal court ruled that the fishery must demonstrate that discards would be accurately counted, but when it soon became clear that discards would not be adequately monitored, Oceana brought a new lawsuit in 2012.
Secondly, we’re applauding a new set of significantly reduced annual catch limits for two stocks of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.
While all stocks of Atlantic cod have been overfished to alarming levels, the cod populations in these two areas have dropped to dire levels – an assessment earlier this year showed that after 15 years of trying to rebuild these two cod populations, virtually zero progress had been made.
The Gulf of Maine cod population is currently at less than 19 percent of its target level, while the Georges Bank cod population is at 7 percent. The new limits will reduce catches in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank by 77 percent and 55 percent, respectively, in a last-ditch effort to save these populations.
The fishing of groundfish like Atlantic cod is historic, older even than America itself. Atlantic cod has been harvested by U.S. fishermen since the 17th century, and the ocean was believed to be so teeming with cod that one could almost walk across the ocean on their backs.
As is often the case, however, fishing turned into overfishing, with U.S. stocks of Atlantic cod coming dangerously near to commercial collapse in the mid-1990s. Concerted efforts to replenish cod stocks began, but to little avail – a 2011 assessment of Gulf of Maine cod showed that the fish was still being seriously overfished, and was not recovering at an adequate rate.
Unfortunately, this disappointing story is not unique to Atlantic cod; today, 14 of 20 groundfish populations in New England are overfished or experiencing overfishing, making these victories that much more critical for the future of these populations.
A year after Boston Globe investigative reporters revealed that the fish on the menu at many Massachusetts restaurants often had little relation to what ended up on the plate, they went back for seconds. As it turns out many of the same restaurants originally cited for selling mislabeled fish are still up to their old tricks.
Cheaper tilapia was often marked up and sold as more expensive red snapper or albacore. Frozen Pacific cod was similarly marked up and sold as fresh, more expensive Atlantic cod. Not only is the consumer cheated in such instances, but there remains the very real concern about food safety.
As the Globe article notes:
“Much of the substitution occurs with imported fish, which now makes up about 91 percent of the seafood Americans consume. Disease outbreaks linked to imported fish have increased in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it more urgent to better regulate the supply chain.”
One of the more common substitutions cited in the article is that of escolar masquerading as white tuna. Escolar has earned the unfortunate moniker “the ex-lax fish” due to the rather unpleasant gastrointestinal effects associated with its consumption.
Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell was quoted in the article decrying the practice.
“The public should be frustrated. How can we trust the food we eat when we can’t even trust basic information on the label or a menu?”
Oceana senior vice president for North America and chief scientist Mike Hirshfield recently sat down with 20/20 to discuss the widespread problem of seafood fraud, telling ABC:
“I would be astonished if anyone buying white tuna or super white tuna at a sushi restaurant got anything other than escolar.”
If you care about what ends up on your plate sign our petition.
The next time you’re in the Boston area and craving some fresh Atlantic cod, beware. You might end up purchasing a completely different fish.
According to a new report released today, Oceana’s intrepid seafood fraud team found that fish shoppers are getting swindled in Boston-area supermarkets. Of the 88 fish samples that Oceana sent in for DNA testing, 16 were mislabeled – nearly one in five.
This spring, Oceana targeted 15 supermarkets in the Boston area and attempted to purchase two (frozen or fresh) fish fillets of three commonly mislabeled species – red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod. When these species were not available, other fish species were selected, such as grey sole and vermilion snapper.
The University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada analyzed the samples using a DNA barcoding system, comparing the fish’s DNA sequence to a catalogue of more than 8,000 fish species that have been barcoded as part of their Fish Barcode of Life initiative. Our campaigners also found that Atlantic cod was the most commonly mislabeled fish species and overfished red snapper was often sold as vermilion snapper.
Our testing results show the need for improved measures to combat seafood fraud and improve fish traceability. Oceana is calling on the federal government to make combating seafood fraud a priority, including implementing existing laws, increasing inspections, and improving coordination and information sharing among federal agencies.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know when, where, and how your fish is caught? We think you should be able to make informed decisions about your seafood.
Think back to the last time you ate seafood: Do you know what species it was and where it was caught? If you think the answer is yes -- we hate to break it you, but you might have been fooled.
Seafood fraud is making it extremely difficult for consumers like you to tell where your seafood comes from, and in some cases, what it is, with major consequences for ocean health, your health and your wallet.
At Oceana we think this is a serious problem, and next week we are launching a brand new campaign to change it.
A whopping 84 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States is imported, but only 2 percent is currently inspected and less than 0.001 percent specifically for seafood fraud. Seafood fraud can come in many different forms, from mislabeling fish and falsifying documents to adding too much ice to packaging.
Our seafood is following an increasingly complex path from fishing vessel to seafood processor and ultimately our plates. As a result, very little information follows seafood through the system. Recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod.
While some of you may be sticking to New Year’s resolutions to make sustainable seafood choices in 2011, not everyone is following suit.
Namely, Legal Sea Foods CEO Roger Berkowitz, who is hosting a dinner later this month with the New England Culinary Guild featuring what he calls “blacklisted” seafood, such as black tiger shrimp, Atlantic cod and Atlantic hake, which are all on the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide’s “avoid” list.
This provocative stab at sustainable seafood designations has taken some heat, not surprisingly. Jacqueline Church and Miriam at Deep Sea News both did some digging into the company’s claims and the science that Legal is trumpeting as “outdated.”