Passionfish Contact: Patti Parisi,
Director of Marketing & Communications
(510) 593-5188



Oakland, CA - November 30, 2003

For 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.


John Filose, Vice President, Ocean Garden Products, Inc.
Bernard Guillas, Executive Chef, The Marine Room
Jeremy Jackson, Ph.D., Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
A. Samuel King, President & CEO, King's Seafood Company, Inc.
John LaGrange, Fisherman and President, American Fishermen's Research Foundation
Dierk Peters, Ph.D., International Marketing Manager, Sustainability Projects Frozen Foods Europe
Walter Pereyra, Ph.D., Chairman, Arctic Storm Management Group, Inc.

Linda Sheehan, J.D., Director, Pacific Regional Office, The Ocean Conservancy

Christopher Speed, N.D., Manager, Food and Nutrition Strategies, Oldways Preservation Trust
Mike Sutton, Program Officer, Ocean Conservation Program, David & Lucile Packard Foundation
Brad Warren, Editor-in-Chief, Pacific Fishing Magazine

Bradford Matsen, Author of books and films on marine science, fisheries, and seafood

Carl Rebstock, Passionfish Executive Director, marine scientist and educator, and co-editor of Fisheries for our Future Environmental Issues Forum Discussion Guide

Introductory Remarks


Environmental 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.


Fisheries 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:  


•  Sustain Ecosystems

•  Put People in the Equation

•  Use the Ocean's Resources Efficiently


The 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.


Finding 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, enduring change.


On 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.



Here is a very, very brief history of human relationship with the ocean:  


After 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.


Concurrent 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.


The 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.


It 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.


Out 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.



Introductory Remarks

Matsen: What brought you here today?

  • Peters:  Company's commitment to sustainability
  • Filose:    Without sustainable resource, company is unsustainable
  • Jackson: To understand the role of people in the destruction of fisheries
  • Sheehan: Conservation groups need to talk more to public rather than only among themselves
  • Speed:  To give a truthful, proper health message
  • Sutton: To share optimism; we're making progress


Approach 1:   Sustain Ecosystems



The 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.


Major Points


  • Pereyra: Accepted fishing practices of yesterday may be irresponsible today.
  • LaGrange:   “Ecosystem management” presupposes ecological wisdom that society lacks. Greater prudence needs to be exercised in regulating fisheries.
  • Jackson:   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 unintended, failures.
  • Peters:   Some bycatch may be inescapable but its impacts are manageable.
  • Sheehan:   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 fish.
  • LaGrange:   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.
  • Warren:   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.
  • Sutton:   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.
  • Sheehan:   Vocal dissenters shut down productive dialogue before progress can be made. Hopefully California can lead the way in overcoming this clamor.
  • Guillas:   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.
  • Filose:   Third World economies like Mexico are enacting First World measures to manage their resources.

Rebstock:   (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.


Approach 2:   Put People in the Equation



The 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.


Major Points

  • Peters:   Consumers are increasingly questioning the origin, healthfulness, cost, and impacts of their purchases. They are very much a part of the equation.
  • Sutton:    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.
  • Peters:   “Sustainability” comprises three dimensions:   ecological, social, and economical. Unilever endeavors to maximize all three.
  • King:   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.
  • Warren:   A corrupted chain of custody makes legal from illegal catch indistinguishable. The present paper trial is inadequate.
  • Pereyra:   The successful management of halibut and sablefish fisheries reflects the power of public input and the council system.
  • Sheehan:   The problem isn't a lack of public input it's a lack of leadership. Management by crisis prevails rather than farsighted community engagement.
  • Speed:   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.
  • Sutton:   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 information.”
  • Guillas:   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.
  • Peters:   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.
  • King:   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 as gospel.
  • Sutton:   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.
  • Guillas:   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.

Matsen:   (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.


Approach 3:   Use the Ocean's Resources Efficiently



The 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.


Major Points

  • Jackson:   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.
  • LaGrange:   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.
  • Peters:   From a European perspective, not only do subsidies distort market forces, the problems they perpetuate—such as overcapacity—are exported to developing countries.
  • Filose:   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.
  • Warren:   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.
  • Sheehan:   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.
  • Pereyra:   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.
  • Filose:   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.
  • Sutton:   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.
  • Peters:   Today's youth are deficit in their knowledge about food, nutrition, agriculture, and health. Education is vital to addressing this worrisome reality.
  • King:   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.
  • Guillas:   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?


Concluding Remarks


No 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.


Fisheries 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?  


All 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 To:
Oceans 2003 Conference
Scripps Institution of Oceanography


"Fish and visitors stink after three days."
Benjamin Franklin

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.