FORUM ON SEAFOOD SUSTAINABILITY REVEALS CHALLENGES AND CONSTRAINTS
WHILE OFFERING HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF OUR OCEAN'S FISHERIES
DIVERSE STAKEHOLDERS AGREE ON OCEAN CRISIS,
BUT DISAGREE ON TACTICS USED TO ADDRESS IT. ALL AGREE FORUMS LIKE
THIS MOVE THE ISSUE TOWARD RESOLUTION AND MOVE PEOPLE AWAY FROM
POLARIZATION AND TOWARD NECESSARY RECONCILIATION
CA - November 30, 2003
the September 3, 2003 news release announcing our forum, please
click here. For the endorsement of Passionfish's
"Sustainable San Diego" Program by Mayor Dick Murphy,
please click here. The following is the
synopsis of the Passionfish forum held at Oceans 2003 in San Diego.
The remarks have been edited for length and clarity.
Filose, Vice President, Ocean Garden Products, Inc.
Guillas, Executive Chef, The Marine Room
Jackson, Ph.D., Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Samuel King, President & CEO, King's Seafood Company, Inc.
LaGrange, Fisherman and President, American Fishermen's Research
Peters, Ph.D., International Marketing Manager, Sustainability
Projects Frozen Foods Europe
Pereyra, Ph.D., Chairman, Arctic Storm Management Group, Inc.
Sheehan, J.D., Director, Pacific Regional Office, The Ocean
Speed, N.D., Manager, Food and Nutrition Strategies, Oldways
Sutton, Program Officer, Ocean Conservation Program, David &
Lucile Packard Foundation
Warren, Editor-in-Chief, Pacific Fishing Magazine
Matsen, Author of books and films on marine science, fisheries,
Rebstock, Passionfish Executive Director, marine scientist and
educator, and co-editor of Fisheries
for our Future Environmental Issues Forum Discussion Guide
Issues Forums (EIFs) are designed to promote constructive dialogue
about controversial environmental issues within communities and
classrooms. Participants are challenged to weigh, in earnest, costs
and consequences, pros and cons, risks and rewards against the availability
of resources such as time and money. Issues Forums provide people
with an opportunity to enhance the breath and depth of their knowledge,
consider a broad range of personal and policy choices, clarify their
values, and talk with each other to identify shared concerns. The
resulting deliberations can be transformative.
for the Future is one of five EIFs. Each is written for
high school age and up. The framework of the fisheries EIF is built
upon three “approaches”: groupings of similar beliefs that paint
with broad strokes how society might sustain bountiful fish and
seafood for generations to come. These three approaches are entitled:
Put People in the Equation
Use the Ocean's Resources Efficiently
approaches are not coercive. Issues Forums are nonpartisan and do
not advocate any specific point of view. Their aim is to achieve
a common understanding of the issue and possible solutions. This
becomes the common ground for action.
common ground doesn't mean finding one solution. It does, however,
mean galvanizing a community with a shared sense of purpose and
resolve. This opens new vistas to the full range of actions available
to its citizens, institutions, and organizations. Issues Forums
rest on the conviction that well-informed and involved citizens
are the best arbiters of and most powerful forces for positive,
the afternoon of Thursday, 25 September 2003, at the International
Oceans 2003 Conference in San Diego, California, Passionfish hosted
more than 150 individuals from the local community and around the
globe. They gathered for nearly three hours to interact with eleven
panelists to discuss sustainable fisheries. A synopsis of their
remarks, edited for length and clarity, follows.
is a very, very brief history of human relationship with the ocean:
tens of thousands of years of habitation by our species, the first
systematic study of the world's oceans and its creatures was accomplished
only 130 years ago. That's when the HMS Challenger circumnavigated
the globe and pioneered modern oceanography. Up until then the ocean
was the realm of monsters and dead men! We had no idea how deep
it was, what lived there, or how we would find out.
with our awakening to the wonders of the sea, our population was
exploding. The true magnitude of this struck me while watching a
video produced by the group Zero Population Growth. It depicted
a global map that scintillated with early epicenters of human civilization.
In the background thumped the beat of a human heart. As the centuries
passed not much happened, until only very recently when the map
was quickly overtaken by a blaze of big cities. Society has spent
an awful lot of time blaming extractive industries like fisheries,
forestry, and mining but the inescapable fact is that a growing
world demands increasing resources. I urge you to bring that sort
of sensibility to this afternoon's discussion.
limits of society's relationship with the seas surrounding us have
been slow to rise into our consciences. As recently as the late
1960s, the US government assured citizens that one billion tons
of harvestable fish plied the ocean's waters. Aquaculture was expected
to multiply this bounty.
was Pollyanna. Just twenty years later catch had peaked at roughly
100 million metric tons. No matter how much effort we expended landings
weren't increasing. We had hit the ceiling. Everyone's lives changed.
Society was forced to start thinking about fisheries differently.
Everyone got mad at each other; we had conflicts and encounters.
Fortunately there are processes like Passionfish.
of the incredible optimism of our human spirit, panelists like these
agree to join dialogues like this, transforming a fluffy concept
like collaboration into a tangible reality. Sustainable seafood
for the future can become a real thing. All of us united by Passionfish
are committed to making this happen.
brought you here today?
Company's commitment to sustainability
Without sustainable resource, company is unsustainable
To understand the role of people in the destruction of fisheries
Conservation groups need to talk more to public rather than only
To give a truthful, proper health message
To share optimism; we're making progress
1: Sustain Ecosystems
best way to ensure the future of fisheries is to manage them as
part of larger natural systems, or “ecosystems.” We should
take a more careful approach to management, one that recognizes
how little we know about how these systems work — and about the
effects that fishing has on them.
Accepted fishing practices of yesterday may be irresponsible today.
“Ecosystem management” presupposes ecological wisdom that
society lacks. Greater prudence needs to be exercised in regulating
For all that science does not know, it does understand
some topics well. A precautionary approach to management is warranted.
Past is prologue. We've inherited dire times due to dismal, albeit
Some bycatch may be inescapable but its impacts are manageable.
Setting aside areas from fishing (e.g. reserves, sanctuaries,
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)) is an underutilized, undervalued
management tool with promise for enriching our understanding of
Caution must be exercised when excluding fishing from designated
areas that greater pressure doesn't result elsewhere. Unmet demand
for seafood that's redirected may cause greater harm when considered
on an ecosystem-wide scale.
Reserves should be one tool among many in the fisheries
management toolbox. They are not a panacea nor without risk. Their
wise employment will demand public dialog.
Sustainability is in society's best interest. Reliance
on political will to “put things right” has failed us. Use of
all available tools must involve all of society.
Vocal dissenters shut down productive dialogue before progress
can be made. Hopefully California can lead the way in overcoming
Chefs can be ideal ambassadors but are besieged by conflicting
information. Sound science and practical alternatives are far
too scarce for restaurants to take an informed stance.
Third World economies like Mexico are enacting First World
measures to manage their resources.
(Summation of deliberation.) Panelists felt that this
Approach emphasized optimism—multi-stakeholder involvement can surmount
the problems faced by our ocean. However, ocean health is crumbling
fast, causing profound social ramifications. Society must act faster
than it has. Marine reserves offer promise but tempered by their
potential pitfalls, analogous to squeezing a balloon. Fishing pressures
may simply be diverted to other areas less able to adapt. Simple
solutions run the risk of belying the complexity of natural systems.
Issues need to be viewed in their totality. The tools used to address
fisheries issues will need to be many and varied. All panelists
shared one conviction: fish and fishing should exist for generations
to come. We differ as to the means. Exacerbating consensus building
is the proliferation of conflicting information. Different groups
with different opinions barrage citizens. Resolution of these differences
is the precursor to acting collectively. We must start collaborating
between groups. Sound ecosystem management will not occur until
better communication and trust prevails.
2: Put People in the Equation
best way to create sustainable fisheries is to share more management
responsibility with fishing communities and people who fish. Fishing
is an important livelihood and source of food, especially in developing
countries. We need to make protection of fishing communities a major
priority in managing the ocean.
Consumers are increasingly questioning the origin, healthfulness,
cost, and impacts of their purchases. They are very much a part
of the equation.
While people may be part of the solution, they are
part of the problem. The impact of society collectively is unsustainable.
The sustainable seafood movement aspires to attract a wide spectrum
of consumers to lessen society's overall negative impacts.
“Sustainability” comprises three dimensions: ecological,
social, and economical. Unilever endeavors to maximize all three.
Public influence is growing, and yet oddly, what they say
they want and what they do often disagree. The conflict over Chilean
seabass demonstrates these extremes. Although there was a boycott
of it by environmental groups, consumers wanted to eat it.
A corrupted chain of custody makes legal from illegal catch
indistinguishable. The present paper trial is inadequate.
The successful management of halibut and sablefish fisheries
reflects the power of public input and the council system.
The problem isn't a lack of public input it's a lack of
leadership. Management by crisis prevails rather than farsighted
Influencing public perception through trends is risky.
Appealing to personal well-being can be misused by those seeking
to manipulate issues affecting our health to attract our attention.
“Trendsetting” strategies commonly disregard accuracy of information
for outcomes—the ends justify the means.
Ask most restaurant servers the source of their fish and
I'll bet they answer “the truck.” Providing chefs with credible,
scientifically sound information is one aim of the sustainable
seafood movement: “empowering better choices through better
Chefs love foolproof fish but need to research alternatives.
Regrettably, too often it's the fishermen who are penalized when
the price of their product is greater than what the public will
pay. Government subsidies should be considered.
The onus of supplying sustainable seafood to consumers
should be on business. Development of a trusted corporate identity
is in a corporation's best interest and can fetch a premium price.
It's unrealistic and unreasonable to ask shoppers to keep current
on ever-changing and complex fisheries issues.
The wallet cards distributed by the sustainable seafood
movement are scary. They blur valid environmental concerns with
suspect political advocacy; they intermix solid science with spotty
science. Consumers are unsuspecting and read the recommendations
Major grocery chains are scared of the cards for a different
reason: they're mostly selling what's red listed. But,
because two-thirds of seafood is eaten in restaurants, it's chefs
who serve as gatekeepers.
We need more than chefs as gatekeepers. Retail fishmongers
respond to consumer demand and need to be engaged to provide shoppers
with options beyond a very few familiar favorites.
(Summation of deliberation.) This experience is among
“the most gratifying I've ever spent in a meeting about seafood….
Finally, after my 25 years of involvement in this issue. Everybody
understands that you're the community” [motioning to the audience].
Consumers are inescapably becoming more informed.
3: Use the Ocean's Resources Efficiently
best way to make sure our fisheries will be productive over the
long run is to use the ocean's living resources efficiently. We
need flexible management tools that respond quickly to changes within
fisheries and that do not get so bogged down in politics. And we
need to work with market forces rather than making regulations that
work against them.
Subsidies prevent true market forces from functioning.
If these influences—funded by a significant percentage of our
taxes—were absent I'd have greater faith in a free market. Government
underwriting of fuel and ship purchases are two examples.
As a lifelong fisherman I have yet to see government subsidies.
The only tax I don't pay for my fuel is highway tax, but my boat
seldom rides the Interstate.
From a European perspective, not only do subsidies distort
market forces, the problems they perpetuate—such as overcapacity—are
exported to developing countries.
Although a hardcore capitalist, I won't concede that market
forces alone should determine the fate of our oceans. Their effects
vary widely from country to country because they are subject to
political whims and government subsidization.
Altering the ways we define “property” structures the interplay
of our markets. The recent development of Individual Transferable
Quotas (ITQs) exemplifies the dramatic environmental and social
gains enjoyed by providing meaningful incentives. While such stewardship
is laudable, there exist underlying inequities in resource allocation
that threaten to undermine the fairness of ITQs.
Market-based solutions to fisheries issues are fundamentally
flawed because fish are a public good. We should take care not
to confuse assigning a right to fish with a property
right to the fish. The latter would be wrong because
fish are a free resource belonging to us all. Two imperatives
exist: the need for sound, scientific knowledge and the
political will to act accordingly. We all play a role in how these
two play out in protecting fish for everybody.
I have faith in the market to optimize and rationalize
fisheries in the best interests of society. Consumers underestimate
the degree to which their purchases shape markets. Similarly,
regulators underestimate the influence that “ownership,” such
as the halibut fishery ITQs, have on shaping stewardship.
One caution, US market forces can clobber Third World economies.
A lot of good, hard-working people and their families are hurt
when our society acts unilaterally.
Aquariums, zoos, and science centers represent trusted
and powerful vehicles for providing the public with accurate and
credible information. The majority of wallet cards are distributed
by these means.
Today's youth are deficit in their knowledge about food,
nutrition, agriculture, and health. Education is vital to addressing
this worrisome reality.
Education is crucial to bridging the tendency of American
society to portray issues as two-sided: Republican or Democrat,
pro-business or pro-environment, black or white. Everyone on this
panel should be committed to finding common ground. There's too
much political spin and over-simplification of issues for people
to make rational decisions.
In our restaurant we combine information with emotion;
we teach our wait staff facts and expose them to tastes. I believe
the balanced combination better serves our customers. An example
would be aquaculture, a topic I would have liked us to discuss
more. It's bad, it's good, it depends who you ask. With demand
for seafood growing where is aquaculture going?
discussion of a few hours will resolve such a complex environmental
issue. However, one of the results of a forum should be movement
by participants (panelists and audience members alike) from knee-jerk
reactions toward more considered judgments. At a minimum, participants
should recognize how complex issues actually are and how real are
their associated tradeoffs.
sustainability is a slippery concept. A holistic grasp of the concept
reveals its impacts on virtually every dimension of life:
intact ecosystems and responsible aquaculture generate robust populations
of sport or commercial fish yielding vibrant coastal economies,
stable communities, healthy lifestyles, intact families, and a genuine
appreciation for the integrity and productivity of nature. Most
people agree that we need to make some changes in order to ensure
that our fisheries will be sustainable. But what changes in fisheries
policies and practices—and perhaps even in our own lives—are most
likely to deliver sustainable fisheries?
of us play a part in shaping the future of fisheries management.
We are all stakeholders in the world that will be our future. Fisheries
for the Future discussions will not alone solve fisheries
problems, but they do afford participants with uncommon insights
into the perspectives of others and a thoughtful means of setting
priorities. Thank you, all, for joining us in this deliberation.
Very Special Thanks
Oceans 2003 Conference
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
"Fish and visitors
stink after three days."
About us: Passionfish is for people passionate about the ocean,
fishing, and seafood! We are a nonprofit public education project
actively promoting sustainable wild fisheries and aquaculture. Founded
in 2000, Passionfish has developed an innovative approach for addressing
seafood and fisheries sustainability: forums that reveal common
ground amid contention, celebrations of seafood, broadcasts that
build awareness, and a unique book series aimed at inspiring adults
and children about ocean and seafood sustainability.