Here’s a better response to the Cod question

So, in looking around on the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) website, we found that Adam had also posed his question about collapsing cod stocks there. NAMA is, like the Gloucester Fisherman’s Wives Association, affiliated with the Cape Ann Fresh Catch CSF.

Most everyone, including us, found the Wive’s Association answer wholly inadequate. But this one is decidedly more adequate.

Hi Adam,

Thanks for your comments and questions. Sorry it has taken us a bit to get back to you. You raise three different issues:

First, I should say that at NAMA we are not a very big fan of the red, yellow, green cards regardless of which entity produces them. This is because in our opinion they don’t go far enough, they are too focused on species and they don’t instill ecosystem-based principles in seafood consumers. To balance that, we have issues our own set of seafood guidelines that gets to the principles we believe anyone buying seafood should consider. You can read our Green Seafood Guidelines here:

If you compared what we are saying about principled seafood choices to food grown on land, our perspective might become clearer. Most of us who eat animals don’t make the decision to simply not eat chicken because so many are raised on factory farms. Instead, we choose to eat chickens that embody the principles we believe in: they should be raised humanely; be given plenty of space to roam and live a relatively normal life; not be pumped full of pesticides, antibiotics or hormones; not live in a polluted environment; raised by small scale farmers… to name a few. We believe these principles should not only be applied to chickens, but the cows or sheep or ducks or whatever other animal we eat from the land to ensure that the animal who has given its life for us has lived a good one before reaching our plate. Or that what ends up in our bodies as a result of eating them doesn’t kill us prematurely.

We at NAMA feel we need similar principles applied to the seafood choices we make. Otherwise, we haven’t changed how people catch the seafood so all sea life are treated with the respect they deserve and the ocean is seen as an ecosystem that it is, while supporting community based fishermen. We don’t want to simply shift the burden from one animal to the other – say from cod to something that’s on the green list – we want all these species to reach healthy populations which means the ocean as an ecosystem needs to be healthy.

Second, you asked about cod specifically. According to fisheries managers and scientists, Gulf of Maine cod is considered healthy enough to allow for certain amounts of fishing. In fact, according to the most recent stock assessment, it is the Georges Bank cod that you hear about being severely depleted, not the Gulf of Maine (where boats that supply the CAFC fish). This same report indicates that the Gulf of Maine Cod is projected to be fully rebuilt within the next few years. Until that happens fishermen follow strict guidelines of how much cod can be caught, where it can be caught, and during what time of the year it can be caught. It might be useful to note that amount of fish permitted to be caught has been steadily increasing as we get closer and closer to a healthy number of cod in our local waters.

By advocating for CSFs, we hope that amount – however big or small – is caught by fishermen who care about how they fish. Just like the farmer who chooses to treat his chickens humanely, we choose to work with fishermen who choose to fish differently regardless of the kind of gear they use. By supporting these ecosystem minded fishermen, they will be able to survive through the hard times and constitute the fisheries of the future, rather than letting our oceans be controlled by conglomerates. Current management practices employed by fisheries regulators do not recognize the ecological benefits of principled-base fishing much like the family farmers’ way of work was dismissed until recent years when we became more aware of the processes that bring food grown on land to our tables. Part of our motivation for creating CSFs was to encourage fisheries managers and regulators to recognize who fishes matters. This is an important point as current fisheries management regulations are leading the way for agribusiness style of fishing to take over. Even more scary, some are encouraging hedge funds and financial institutions to take over fishing rights rather than community based fishermen. We need to stop this trend and we believe CSFs are one way to do that.

Third is about trawling. The boats supplying to the CSF use variety of gear, including trawling. Although some might argue against NAMA’s position, for now we have decided to focus on the scale of a fishing operation. This wasn’t a decision we reached lightly but rather based on what we know and have experienced about various fishing gear and how they can be used – or misused. We believe that by first addressing the issue of scale we give the fishermen the political space to think about the impact of their individual gear. To use the chicken analogy again, if a farmer knew they didn’t have to compete with the factory chicken farm down the road, the incentive to have a humane farm, treat their chicken well, feed them wholesome and create the space for them to roam would increase. And if they knew they could do all this and make a living wage, well there would be nothing to stop them.

Again, current fisheries management practices do not recognize the ecological and economic benefits of the small scale fishermen (or the good chicken farmer!). In fact, the opposite is true where the agri-business level of efficiency is given higher value than the equivalent to the family farm operations. At this juncture, there are even moves afoot to further industrialize, privatize and consolidate the fishing industry. It is our strategy to stem this tide through CSFs and direct marketing efforts. We want to show that the public doesn’t believe hedge funds and financial institutions will be better stewards of our oceans than community based fishermen. In this economic climate, you’d think that would be a no-brainer, but it’s not.

So in the end, we believe by removing these economic, marketing and management barriers we can ensure than any gears used to catch fish - whether hooks, gillnets or trawls - have the smallest footprint on the ocean. And, ultimately create the atmosphere were fishermen can choose whatever gear or reduce the impact of any gear they believe will meet their goal of leaving the oceans for future generations possible.

Don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any other questions about why we are doing what we are doing. It might take us a while, but we will get back to you.

All the best,



  1. I am really uncomfortable with the fishermen wanting us to adopt a “trust us” attitude. Do we sit back and simply “hope” that other suppliers and purveyors will choose methods that humane and environmentally sound? No. Why do they want our support without ANY promises whatsoever of their phasing out damaging gear/methods? They could tell us by the end 2010 none in the CSF will use it or something like that.

    I sympathize with their plight and having chosen to follow, in many cases, multigenerational choices to become fishermen. Those choices carry responsibilities. The decision to rape the oceans coupled with the expectation that they are owed our support and with NO promises about amending harmful fishing methods or pressure on nearly extinct stock is getting old fast.

    In the early days I kept hearing that this is a step in the right direction and “the hope is that…” and “building the community” “building the relationships” would address these issues of ocean damage and fishery pressure. I keep waiting for an adequate response. I keep waiting to hear the fisheries’ plan for phasing out harmful gear. Meanwhile friends tell me they keep getting Cod, Cod, Cod in their CSF. So how does that show they are easing pressure on the stock of Cod?

    “…creating an atmosphere where fishermen can choose whatever gear or reduce the impact of any gear they believe will meet their goal of leaving the oceans for future generations possible…” doesn’t cut it. We are in the position we are in now partly because fishermen big and small did NOT choose to protect the ocean environment over their own economic self-interest. If this is simply a request we vote with out pocketbooks for smaller harm than bigger, family fishermen than industrial fishermen then let’s put the cards on the table and admit it.

    I’m still waiting for some clear commitment from the CSF fishermen about reducing harmful methods of fishing and reducing pressure on the beloved and dwindling Cod.

    On the West Coast the parallel is the family tuna operations. They are fishing an endangered stock, to be sure, but they are at least doing it in ways that don’t damage the ocean environment. They have made that commitment. Can we get a similar commitment here?

  2. I can only contribute a brief response at the moment, so while I have my own thoughts on the Cape Ann CSF and Atlantic Cod problem, first I’d like to broaden the topic a bit. Food and environmental issues were some of the first to engage my political consciousness, if you will. They involve a lot of seemingly personal choices within a complex system, but over time I’ve come to believe personal change is not social or institutional change, and that requires organization. I think CSAs or CSFs, while they may not go far enough, are a start to an organized approach.

    So, I’ll pass along the following article for now which, while not about food per se, speaks to this:

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