The short answer is yes. At least we think so. But first, a parable.
Our friend Adam has a share with Cape Ann Fresh Catch. Like us and the other 898 members, he’s been getting a lot of cod from the community supported fishery. Through the magic of the internets, he found himself surfing the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s web site recently, where there’s a very thorough guide on how to eat seafood and protect endangered, overfished species. As it turns out, they had this to say about cod:
Atlantic cod from North America has been fished heavily for the past 50 years, resulting in massive population declines. Scientists agree that we are now fishing the last 10 percent of this population. … Fishermen often catch cod with bottom trawl gear, which involves dragging large nets across the seafloor. This damages marine habitats and results in bycatch.
Adam, like us and probably the 898 other CSF members, is a conscientious eater. He doesn’t want to consume the last 10 percent of cod. So he contacted Cape Ann Fresh Catch and asked for some guidance.
Two days later, he got an email back from the president of the Gloucester Fisherman’s Wives Association (which is facilitating the CSF). This is some of her response:
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. What the Monterey Bay Aquarium has on line about the Atlantic cod is not the truth. For the last 32 years the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives association has worked with the regulators to make sure that we preserve the fish stocks in the atlantic.
The fishermen of the eastcoast have made many sacrifices for conservation. They fish under the most restrictive regulations in the world …. The latest news from the scientists was that the cod stock of the gulf of Maine is in recovery and by the year 2012 it will be fully recovered.
Keep in mind that the boats that catch the fish that we deliver to you is done by small boats between 40 to 50 feet, they are on the fish ground only few hours a day because they are allowed only to bring a total of 800 lb of cod per day. The catch is inspected at the docks by federal agent.
Yes our boats are bottom draggers but remember that they have fished as draggers for over 100 years and they still fish in the same fish grounds and it takes a 10 minutes tow to get 800lb of cod. so you see there are pleanty of fish for us to enjoy.
I hope I have given you enough information, if you need more please let me know.
No, we didn’t need to publish all of that. But, in a way, we did. Implicit in it is the answer to the question in the headline on this blog post.
It’s really great that Adam asked this question. It’s really great that he got a prompt, warm answer — and an offer for more info. It’s really great that he shared it with us and that we’re sharing it with you. This is an active engagement in a food system and it is the number one way to dig ourselves out of the hellhole where most of what America eats is presently cultivated/swimming around in.
If all of our fish (if all of our food…) were coming to market through small, co-operatively owned models like Cape Ann Fresh Catch, it’s probably fair to say the ocean would be in better shape. Because the success of the fishery hinges on the success of its membership, Adam’s question mattered. Because of its scale and proximity, he could have an actual dialog with the people in charge there. Any of us could.
On the matter of cod and who is right about whether it’s safe to fish: It’s impossible for us non-fisherman, non-scientist types to really make the call on this one. We don’t have full access to the complexity of the situation. And so the true word on cod remains a mystery to us.
In a way, that’s OK. What matters more than solving that mystery is resolving the problems that precipated it at all.
On its page about ‘green seafood,’ Cape Ann Fresh Catch issues this sentiment — almost precisely. This is sort of perfectly expressed.
We wouldn’t have to think this hard about what we eat from the seas if policies and regulations were ecosystem and community based. NAMA believes that through a grassroots movement of fishermen, fishing community organizations and those who eat their catch we can transform today’s fisheries policies towards ones that recognize the oceans are complex ecosystems and not bodies of water that magically produce single species of fish that pop onto our plates.