Hanging in the Balance: America's Fishing Industry
VOLUME 19, NUMBER 1, SUMMER 2004 PDF
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Hanging in the Balance: America's Fishing Industry
fishermen are battered by tough regulations intended to recover overfished
stocks and by floods of cheap imported seafood.
Craig Deihl, executive chef
at Cypress Lowcountry Grille in Charleston, annually used to serve a ton
or more of grouper, a popular item on his menu. But then grouper became
harder to acquire. “I’d call on Friday or Saturday, and they’d
have run out.”
The oceans’ bounty once
seemed limitless, but in recent decades intense fishing pressure has decimated
many populations of valuable commercial species such as swordfish, cod,
haddock, tuna, snapper, and grouper. Roughly 25 to 30 percent of the world’s
major fish stocks are overfished, according to the U.S.Commission on Ocean
Policy, which released a preliminary report April 2004, to state governors
and the public for comment. Appointed by President Bush, the commission
is making recommendations on how to improve the capacity of the nation
to manage oceans and coasts. The commission’s final report is due
About 25 percent of major U.S.
fish stocks are also overfished (see sidebar p. 7). In the U.S. South
Atlantic region, some snapper and grouper stocks were driven down drastically
from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s.
“Real damage was done
to some stocks,” says Louis Daniel, assistant to the director of
the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, and vice-chairman of
the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), which manages fisheries
in federal waters three miles to 200 miles offshore of the Carolinas,
Georgia, and the eastern coast of Florida to the Keys.
fishery in the U.S. South Atlantic is a complex of 73 reef species, including
snappers, grouper, jacks, porgies, tilefish, grunts, and sea basses. Some
extremely overfished species include speckled hind, Warsaw grouper, misty
grouper, yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper, golden tilefish, sand tilefish,
and blueline tilefish.
Starting in the early
1990s, SAFMC instituted tough management measures for overfished species,
including trip limits, species limits, size limits, gear regulations,
seasonal closures, total-landings limits, a commercial limited-entry program,
and quotas. “We regulate fishermen very, very severely,” says
John Mark Dean, a professor emeritus of marine science at the University
of South Carolina and an SAFMC member.
Recovery, though, is slow.
After 10 years, many stocks “have turned the corner,” says
Daniel. Still, it could take another decade for some stocks to recover
to sustainable levels.
Frustrated by regulations and
low prices, some fishermen have given up chasing snapper-grouper, according
to a study by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries. In 1994,
a total of 227 commercial fishermen harvested three million pounds of
snapper-grouper in North Carolina, the state with the best multi-year
fishing-trip records. Eight years later, of those original fishermen only
87 remained, catching one million pounds. Yet fishermen were catching
roughly the same amount per vessel in 2002 as they did in 1994. Catching
snapper-grouper is apparently still profitable, but for fewer people.
So how does the seafood industry
make up the loss in domestic snapper-grouper? “They fill in with
imports, especially Mexican grouper,” says fisherman and seafood
packer Charles Phillips of Phillips Seafood in Townsend, Ga., and vice-chair
of a SAFMC advisory panel on the snapper-grouper fishery. “There
are so many fish brought into Miami, it’s ridiculous. And imports
set the prices for all fish. If they’re paying two bucks a pound
for a Mexican grouper, you’re not going to get three bucks for your
U.S. South Atlantic fishermen
and shellfish harvesters face a perfect storm of financial and regulatory
pressures: rising fuel and insurance and maintenance costs, closures of
polluted harvesting grounds, public concern about trawling’s effects
on the sea bottom and turtles, increasingly tough regulations to sustain
fishery populations and protect the marine environment, and huge volumes
of imported fish (including shellfish) that drive down prices that local
fishermen receive for their catches.
Global trade is the
biggest challenge facing U.S. fish producers. “Just 10 years ago,
it was a different industry,” says Wally Stevens, president of the
American Seafood Distributors Association, one of the nation’s largest
seafood-industry groups. “Now we can get fresh fish out of Vietnam.
Most of the salmon we eat comes on a plane every day from Chile. The technology
of aquaculture, packaging, cold-chain distribution—planes, trucks,
warehouses, coolers—and the handlers at the end—all this allows
us to have the world at our doorstep. But as a result, there’s a
heritage very much at risk—the heritage of fishing communities in
the United States.”
It’s become tougher for
U.S. fishermen to compete against foreign producers. “Imports are
coming in from countries that aren’t meeting the same regulatory
requirements that we have,” says Dean. “You can buy imported
grouper at less than you pay for domestic grouper. And the imported grouper
would not be permitted to be landed by our fishermen because they are
far smaller than our minimum size.”
Meanwhile, resource managers
have tightened harvesting rules on many stocks because of past overfishing.
Some stocks are coming back, but not quickly enough to provide a living
for many fishermen. “Management issues are making part-time fishermen
out of everyone,” says Robert Southerland, a North Carolina shrimper
and an SAFMC member. “It’s getting so restrictive that people
don’t have a full-time livelihood.”
The South Carolina Aquarium,
to support local seafood producers, is leading an effort to create the
Sustainable Seafood Education Project, which brings together scientists,
fish farmers (or aquaculturists), chefs, conservationists, regulators,
educators, and fishermen. Thirty-two lowcountry restaurants have joined
The project discourages chefs
from serving three species: orange roughy, Chilean sea bass, and shark.
Many of the fish most at risk to overfishing are slow to mature, have
limited geographical range, or reproduce at an older age or sporadically.
The project, though, encourages
the public “to celebrate some kinds of seafood, especially local
species,” says Christopher Andrews, executive director of the South
Carolina Aquarium. The project encourages consumption of many species
in the reef-fish complex, including yellowtail snapper, vermilion snapper,
South Atlantic red snapper, and most groupers, all of which are managed
“You can feel good about
eating this product, which is regulated and sustainable,” says Mark
Marhefka, a Charleston-based commercial fishermen and chair of the SAFMC
snapper-grouper advisory panel. “Plus, you’re keeping a livelihood
going for local fishermen.”
Fresh seafood is part of the
lowcountry’s attraction, yet residents and visitors will continue
eating imported seafood. The state’s fishing industry can’t
supply South Carolina restaurants year-round.
Even so, many lowcountry
restaurants don’t serve locally caught fish when it’s available.
More than 70 percent of Marhefka’s catch volume is vermilion snapper,
but he hasn’t found buyers for it among local restaurants. Instead,
he sells it to northern premium markets from Baltimore to Canada.
Most fish caught locally are
traded through New York markets. Later, some return here, processed and
ready to be cooked. Many local restaurants and grocery stores demand steady
supplies offered by distributors in New York, where South Carolina-caught
grouper gets mixed with Mexican-caught grouper. “Unless you go out
and catch the fish yourself, you can’t be a hundred percent sure
of where it came from,” says Deihl.
But this September, for the
first time, seafood in U.S. supermarkets will begin carrying labels stating
in which country’s waters the fish originated, where it was processed,
and whether it is wild or farmed. The new labeling requirement will cover
everything from farmed shrimp to wild salmon to fish sticks.
An omnibus-spending bill, passed
in January 2004 by Congress, provided money for the “country-of-origin”
seafood-labeling program. Fish must be categorized according to the nationality
of the boat that catches them. Regulations governing beef and pork labeling
have been delayed until September 2006.
But restaurants—the most
influential market for seafood—are exempt from the new labeling
rule, and that might defeat some of the law’s purpose. The “white
table-cloth sector,” in particular, strongly influences what seafood
Americans eat and how they cook it. “We tend to eat (at home) what
we see in restaurants,” says Mike Sutton, program officer in the
conservation and science program of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation
in Los Altos, Calif. “Celebrity chefs are especially important.
They are the gatekeepers in the industry.”
Because of the restaurant exemption
and potential loopholes, the new law alone won’t significantly improve
prospects for domestic fishermen, says Bubba Green, executive director
of the South Carolina Seafood Alliance, which does not take a position
for or against the new rule. The alliance membership includes harvesters,
processors, and distributors. Says Green: “The law’s going
to be a whole lot less effective than proponents think it’s going
OUT FAR AND
The ocean bottom is mostly
sandy and flat for about 30 to 60 miles offshore along the Carolinas and
Georgia. Then, along the mid-continental shelf, the seafloor elevation
changes abruptly, and rocky outcrops attract vermilion snapper and other
For centuries, this region
was too far out and snapper-grouper species lived too deep for most fishermen
to catch. So fishermen concentrated on species they could harvest more
easily within 10 to 20 miles from shore.
Fishing vessels worldwide hugged
coastlines for most of human history. Fishermen rowed and sailed through
estuaries and the coastal ocean, armed with rough hooks and handmade nets.
The open sea was distant and dangerous. De facto marine refuges existed
in places that fishing gear could not reach. These refuges provided nurseries
so that fish populations could rebound after heavy fishing pressure.
During the seventeenth century,
though, fishermen of northern Europe and North America began traveling
great distances for cod and other species that could be sold on international
By the early nineteenth century,
English fishermen began operating steam trawlers with power winches to
haul up nets, which made fishing far more efficient. Still, many small
vessels were relatively primitive through the 1940s. Small-scale commercial
fishing boats in South Carolina still used small one- or two-cylinder
gasoline engines, and fishermen hauled in nets by hand.
During the 1960s, fishing vessels
and practices throughout the Northern Hemisphere were becoming far more
sophisticated. To take advantage of the oceans’ riches, nations
including the United States, Russia, most European countries, and Japan
subsidized their fishing industries through low- or no-interest loans
Fishermen invested in higher-powered
engines, improved navigational equipment, and trawling and netting gear.
Between 1970 and 1990, the size of the world’s decked fishing fleet
doubled from 585,000 to 1.2 million vessels (not including millions of
smaller craft), according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO). With sonar, mariners began detecting fish schooling in the deep
ocean. Trawling vessels began using depth recorders and global positioning
systems to find bottom fish and shellfish. Ships became much larger and
safer to handle on the open sea.
It was during this period of
rapid expansion and technological prowess that snapper-grouper species
in the U.S. South Atlantic also faced tremendous fishing pressure. Wild
harvests peaked in the late 1980s.
The swift growth of catches
resulted in overfishing in many ocean areas globally. “We fish everywhere
now,” says Daniel Pauly, a fisheries biologist at the University
of British Columbia. “A hundred years ago, (some) fisheries were
protected by the depth and distance from the coast. Today, technology
makes it possible to fish anywhere. The areas that once were refuges are
also have greatly improved tools. The U.S. South Atlantic has the largest
recreational marine fishery in the nation—an estimated 2.3 million
resident anglers in 2002. Recreational angling is expected to grow rapidly
with explosive population increases along the coast.
Many American fish stocks,
some scientists say, face the same problem plaguing those around the world:
too many well-equipped vessels are hunting too few fish. Nearly one hundred
major U.S. fish stocks are overfished, according to the NOAA National
Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
Many commercial fishermen who
once relied on snapper-grouper now catch other species. “We have
great species diversity in this region,” says USC’s Dean,
“and we have very opportunistic fishermen who shift among species.”
Fishing pressures have severely
reduced worldwide populations of top marine predators such as grouper,
snapper, and tuna. In a study published in the journal Nature, Ransom
Myers, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, writes
that the global ocean has lost more than 90% of the populations of large
The fish first targeted
by fishermen tend to be the largest—both the largest species and
the largest animals within particular species. Once large predatory fish
begin to disappear, fishermen then pursue prey species on the next lower
level of the food chain.
catches down as a result of overfishing and regulations, many North Carolina
commercial fishermen are catching huge numbers of croaker, an unregulated,
small groundfish. Caught by gill nets and trawls, croaker are low-priced
fish often sold to China as a food staple. As one observer pointed out,
croaker is probably less valuable than the cardboard box it’s carried
in. In size, croaker is similar to men-haden, reaching maturity at about
Massive croaker catches, regulators
worry, could affect the health of fish populations in some areas. “The
biomass of the croaker fishery is huge,” says Daniel. “But
we don’t have a good handle on the overall ecosystem effect”
of North Carolina fishermen transferring their efforts from snapper and
grouper to croaker.
“Many management measures
are intended to take fishing gear out of the water,” adds Daniel.
“But we’re not taking the gear out of the water, we’re
just shifting gears” onto other species.
The seafood industry processes
catches of many smaller fishes into products such as fish sticks and food
for chicken, cattle, pigs, pets, and carnivorous farmed fish. In some
regions of the world, smaller fishes provide cheap protein for the poor.
But stripping the ocean of
forage species can disrupt the marine food chain. Menhaden and croaker,
which swim in dense schools, are a crucial food source for predatory species.
Bass, mackerel, cod, bonito, swordfish, bluefish, and tuna are intensive
consumers of menhaden.
Menhaden and juvenile croaker
also vacuum up plankton in many Atlantic Coast estuaries, clarifying the
water column and controlling the spread of algal blooms. Menhaden and
croaker thus are essential links in the food chain connecting tiny plankton
to marine predators that grace our supper tables. The nineteenth-century
fishery zoologist G. Brown Goode once said that people who eat Atlantic
Ocean fish are eating “nothing but menhaden.”
South Carolina regulations
prohibit purse seines used to catch huge numbers of menhaden in estuarine
waters. The croaker fishery is generally limited to colder waters north
of South Carolina, though croakers swim here as well.
Will predators get skinnier
and scarcer in estuaries where they have fewer smaller fish to consume?
Will predators, facing food scarcity, breed earlier? “As fishing
boats turn to smaller, less valuable, and once discarded species, they
are . . . causing changes in the size, age structure, genetic makeup,
and reproductive status of fish populations,” states the U.S. Commission
on Ocean Policy preliminary report. “This seriously compromises
the integrity of marine ecosystems, the ecological services they provide,
and the resources upon which Americans rely.”
In the future, U.S. commercial
fishermen will likely face even more intense competition from fish producers
in developing countries.
Numerous Asian nations have
dramatically ramped up seafood production to feed their people but also
to sell fish to Japan, United States, and Europe, the world’s largest
During the late 1970s, international
agencies such as the World Bank began encouraging fish farming—or
aquaculture—as a way to provide food for the poor and promote commerce
in developing countries. Aquaculture fulfilled much of this promise.
Total fish consumption worldwide
jumped from 45 million metric tons in 1973 to more than 91 million metric
tons in 1997, including wild harvests and farm-raised fish.
Fish farming provided most
of this growth over the past 20 years. Indeed, aquaculture is the fastest
growing food-production industry worldwide. By 2030, aquatic farming will
probably provide more than half of the fish for human consumption, according
to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
There are two reasons for this
remarkable rise in fish consumption since the early 1970s, says Nikolas
Wada, coauthor of a major report on fish trade by the International Food
Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
First, human populations have
skyrocketed in many developing countries where people have historically
eaten a lot of fish. Second, people in these countries have been eating,
on average, more fish than ever before.
Developing countries sell far
more seafood on the international market than they did 20 years ago. Shrimp,
salmon, and tuna are big-ticket items in global fish markets.
The worldwide fish trade, worth
$55 billion a year, has become more important in value than global trade
in coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, and bananas combined, according to IFPRI
China is easily the biggest
aquaculture producer by volume. According to its own reporting, China
produces an astonishing 68 percent of global aquaculture production by
weight—primarily low-value freshwater carp for domestic consumption.
In the future, China could
grow more premium seafood to sell to wealthy countries. “Will China
continue to produce freshwater carp at low intensity?” asked Wada.
“Or is China going to start investing in higher-value commodities
for the export market?”
China and several Southeast
Asian countries are already culturing high-value marine species such as
grouper and flounder largely for domestic markets, says Albert Tacon,
an aquaculture nutritionist at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
“If China diversifies
into high-value species for export in a big way,” says Wada, “they
will have a major impact on world seafood markets.”
are clear,” says Christopher Delgado, lead author of the IFPRI report.
“In 2020, people in developing countries will produce, consume,
and trade a greater share of the world’s fish.”
By value, though, industrialized
countries will probably remain the big spenders on premium seafood such
as shrimp and salmon.
Japan is the largest seafood
market by value; the United States is the second largest. From 1996 to
2001, U.S. seafood imports increased in value by 40 percent. Japan’s
imports declined nine percent by value over the same period. So the United
States will probably become the dominant seafood market for imports by
value within the next decade.
More of the seafood that Americans
eat will be foreign-produced in the future. In wealthy countries like
the United States, notes the FAO, “an increasing share of the fish
consumed will be imported and, as these countries will want to obtain
fish as cheaply as possible, it is likely that most trade barriers will
be removed in advanced economies.”
Foreign producers hold certain
advantages over many U.S. fishermen and fish farmers. In some cases, overseas
producers—who may not face seasonal closures, strict environmental
regulations, and other constraints—can guarantee consistency year-round.
This is especially true of seafood production dominated by foreign aquaculture.
Foreign fishing fleets are also less capital-intensive and have cheaper
The near future, therefore,
will be difficult for fishermen in the U.S. South Atlantic. But eventually
U.S. producers could benefit from stringent fisheries management.
“Because of the way these
other countries manage their fisheries—which is not at all—many
overseas fishermen are going to be in worse shape ultimately than we are,”
says Daniel. “Our fishermen who have stuck it out are going to be
in the catbird seat. The question is whether they’re going to be
able to stay in the fishery long enough to reap the benefits.”
In 1969, the Stratton
Commission released a landmark report describing the U.S. fishing industry
as technically deficient and uncompetitive. The Stratton Commission called
for the U.S. fishing industry to take back its fisheries from foreign
boats and for the federal government to set up management regimes on fishery
In response, Congress
passed a law now known as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and
Management Act, which expanded the federal fisheries conservation zone
to 200 miles offshore and established eight regional councils to manage
fisheries. Most individual coastal states within the United States have
jurisdiction up to three miles offshore, though a few have wider jurisdiction.
U.S. “fishing industry rushed to enlarge its capacity to catch fish,”
notes the April 2004 preliminary report by the U.S. Commission on Ocean
Policy. “New technologies were developed while programs . . . provided
incentives for U.S. fishermen to upgrade or buy new vessels. This led
to an unprecedented and unforeseen expansion of U.S. fishing power.”
The preliminary report
calls for reforms of the regional fishery councils, which recommend catch
limits on fish and allocate catches among recreational and commercial
fishermen. Councils offer these recommendations to the NOAA National Marine
Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Secretary of Commerce, who make the final
determinations on fishery management plans.
state and federal resource managers, but these regulatory bodies were
designed in the 1970s so that representatives of commercial and recreational
fishing industries would hold the majority of votes. Experts believed
that having fishing interests hold a majority would help fishery managers
sustain stocks over time.
But it hasn’t
turned out that way, says Andrew Rosenberg, dean of life sciences and
agriculture at the University of New Hampshire and a commissioner on the
U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. When important fish stocks have declined
rapidly, many councils have not reduced fishermen’s access to the
resource, says Rosenberg. Instead many councils have continued arguing
that there are plenty of fish to catch.
Fishermen on councils
tend to look at a regional fishery resource from the point of view of
their financial interests, says Rosenberg. They put off setting new regulations
to recover the resource. Then, once a fishery has collapsed and regulations
finally have been put in place, fish populations begin to revive over
time. But too often fishing interests on councils are unwilling to sustain
effective regulations long enough to recover fully. If councils fail to
act, NMFS has the authority to sustain effective regulations, but in some
cases NMFS has not weathered the political heat, experts say.
Such problems did
not occur on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), which
regulates fisheries in federal waters from North Carolina to the Florida
Keys, says John Mark Dean, a professor emeritus of marine science at the
University of South Carolina who has served twice as SAFMC member. In
1989-1991, for example, the council established tough limits on catches
of Spanish mackerel and king mackerel, both of which fisheries had declined,
says Dean. Now these stocks are thriving.
“Some of our
most conservative recommendations have come from fishermen on our council,”
who advocate more stringent fishery-management efforts, says Gregg Waugh,
SAFMC deputy executive director.
Now the commission
calls for reforms to address overfishing. First, regional fishery councils
should clearly separate fishery assessment (the sustainable harvests of
fish stocks) and allocation (who catches the fish). This reform, according
to the commission, would allow scientists—instead of fishermen—more
authority over how many fish in specific stocks can be caught to sustain
Second, the commission
argues, there should be “fine-tuning” of the eight regional
fishery management councils. The number of fishing industry representatives
on the councils should be reduced, in part to eliminate potential conflicts
Third, fishery managers
should further explore the use of “dedicated-access privileges.”
In a traditional open-access, derby-style fishery, anyone who can afford
to buy a fishing boat can get a license and race out at the season’s
opening to catch as many fish as possible. By contrast, in a dedicated-access
fishery, an individual fisherman, community, or other entity is granted
the privilege of catching a specific portion of a stock’s total
allowable catch. The benefit is that fishermen do not have to overfish
the resource because each is allowed to catch only a certain share. “The
incentive,” states the commission, is that fishermen would “catch
the full share at a low cost and sell the best quality fish at the highest
SAFMC has already
established a dedicated-access fishery for wreckfish and snapper-grouper
caught off the South Carolina coast. “It’s a tool that works
in some instances,” says Waugh, “so we’d like to have
Council studies marine- protected areas
In its April 2004 preliminary
report, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy offered qualified support
for marine-protected areas. “Although at times controversial,”
stated the commission, “appropriately designed and implemented marine-protected
areas have proven useful.”
Marine-protected areas, which
can include no-take reserves, have helped restore fishery populations
outside reserves in some locations, experts say. Adults and juveniles
migrate outside of the reserve’s borders, and currents relocate
larvae. Within reserves, fish populations increase in size. Individuals
also tend to live longer, grow larger, and reproduce more.
The South Atlantic Fishery
Management Council (SAFMC) is considering whether to designate marine-protected
areas to reduce fishing pressure on eight deepwater snapper and grouper
species: speckled hind, Warsaw grouper, misty grouper, yellowedge grouper,
snowy grouper, golden tile fish, sand tilefish, and blueline tilefish.
Nine proposed protected
areas are being studied. With the exception of one proposed site off North
Carolina, these areas would prohibit bottom fishing for snapper and grouper,
but would allow trolling for pelagic species such as tuna, dolphin fish,
wahoo, and billfishes. One protected area already exists in Florida. SAFMC
plans to publish its list of areas for public comment in early 2005.
areas have been a good thing based on how other countries have done them,”
says Mark Marhefka, a Charleston-based commercial fisherman.
But some U.S. fishing groups—both
commercial and recreational—are opposed to implementation of significant
“We don’t want
any permanent no-fish zones,” says Ed Kowysz, president of the Grand
Strand Saltwater Anglers Association. “If species stay in that no-fish
zone, then recreational sport fishermen can’t go get them.”
fight imported product
American shrimp fishermen
realize they must find ways to distinguish U.S. product from imports,
says Mount Pleasant resident Eddie Gordon, president of the Southern Shrimp
Alliance (SSA), an eight-state group formed in 2002.
“We are rapidly
moving forward to having a certified product, a special brand called ‘Wild
American Shrimp,’ just like those for black Angus beef and Vidalia
onions,” says Gordon. “You have to have this differentiation
and enforce it.”
Americans eat relatively
little U.S. caught or farmed shrimp, though they eat all that’s
produced. Up to 85 percent of shrimp that Americans eat is imported.
Huge volumes of shrimp
grown overseas have been “dumped” on U.S. markets at extremely
low prices, creating havoc for fishermen and shrimp farmers in coastal
southern states from North Carolina to Texas, according to SSA. Prices
for South Carolina shrimp have fallen to 1970s levels. Now, U.S. producers
want tariffs placed on imported shrimp, and they have taken an “anti-dumping”
case to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Many lowcountry restaurants
and retail outlets sell primarily foreign shrimp because it’s available
year-round, often at the lowest cost. Shrimp is the most popular seafood
in the United States, and American producers cannot meet exploding market
face many of the same problems as snapper-grouper fishermen: rising prices
for fuel and labor, increasing competition from imports, and falling prices
for domestic product. One important difference, however, is that the domestic
shrimp fishery is not overfished, and it is not experiencing overfishing,
according to Amber Von Harten, S.C. Sea Grant fisheries extension specialist.
“One of the
big problems in South Carolina is the lack of freezer capacity and processing
facilities here,” says Von Harten. “Infrastructure is key
to a sustainable industry in the state and region.”
But the most pressing
challenge is imported shrimp. After a shrimper carries his catch to dock,
a packer usually sells it to a national distributor who handles both American
and foreign product. The distributor, in turn, sells the shrimp frozen
to grocery stores and restaurants that rarely label the seafood’s
origin. Consumers, therefore, often don’t know whether shrimp is
foreign or domestic, farmed or wild-caught. Shrimpers hope that a new
rule coming into effect this fall will solve this problem. In September,
seafood in U.S. supermarkets must have labels stating the product’s
nation of origin, location of processing, and whether it is wild or farmed.
In February 2004,
the U.S. International Trade Commission stated there is “reasonable
indication” that six nations illegally flooded the American markets
with cheap shrimp.
The U.S. producers’
case has gone to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which on July 6 is expected
to decide whether to place duties on shrimp from China and Vietnam, and
on July 29 whether to place duties on shrimp from Brazil, Thailand, Ecuador,
“We see both
sides of the (shrimp-imports) issue,” says Linda Candler, a vice-president
of the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood-industry organization based
in Arlington, Virginia. “Domestic shrimp production has remained
flat for 20 years. The surge in imports is to meet domestic demand. You
can’t meet demand without imports.”
Overseas shrimp farmers
determine the domestic prices because their volume is so huge. Still,
domestic fishermen and aquaculturists can establish “niche markets”
in which a high-quality product is coupled with “buy U.S.”
and Web sites:
L. and others. Outlook for Fish to 2020: Meeting Global Demand.
International Food Policy Research Institute and the WorldFish Center,
October 2003. http://www.ifpri.org/media/fish20031002.htm
Myers, Ransom and
Boris Worm. “Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities.”
Nature, May 15, 2003.
Our Nation and
The Sea: A Plan for National Action. Report of the Commission on Marine
Science, Engineering and Resources. Washington, D.C., 1969.
of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Governors’ Draft, Washington,
D.C., April 2004.
The State of
World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2002. United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization. Rome, 2002.
Sustainable Seafood Education