Joining the Sustainable Fishing Soupbowl

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Illegally harvested shark fins. Source: shareamerica.com

Given the critical decline of fish populations worldwide, it’s reassuring to hear that high-profile U.S. corporations, and ones in the hotel industry at that, are taking a stand against unsustainable fishing practices. Here’s the story as told on Share America:

Rogue vessels use banned equipment, damage breeding grounds and destroy tons and tons of by-catch, marine life that is caught in nets but not desirable in the markets.

Thirty percent of world fisheries are tapped beyond their limits, while another 60 percent are being fished at maximum capacity.

Major U.S. hotel chains, restaurants and supermarkets have responded by requiring that fish they serve be harvested sustainably.

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Cod’s Feeling the Heat

Zach Whitener, research associate at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, holds a cod while collecting samples for a study. PHOTO:  Gulf of Maine Research Institute

Zach Whitener, research associate at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, holds a cod while collecting samples for a study. PHOTO: Gulf of Maine Research Institute

As climate change has warmed the Earth, oceans have responded more slowly than land environments. But scientific research is finding that marine ecosystems can be far more sensitive to even the most modest temperature change. A telling effect of rising temperatures is the problems fishing is plagued by.

Cod was once so plentiful in New England that legend had it you could walk across the local waters by stepping on the backs of the fish. Now, though, this tasty species is in such trouble there that cod fishing is practically shut down. And scientists say it looks like rapid warming in the Gulf of Maine explains why regulators’ recent efforts to help the cod while allowing fishing were a failure.

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Building an Empire, A Fish at a Time

When Mama Sylvia started fishing 27 years ago, all she had was a small canoe, which she paddled with an oar. PHOTO: BBC

When Mama Sylvia started fishing 27 years ago, all she had was a small canoe, which she paddled with an oar. PHOTO: BBC

We talk about sustainable development. Often, the definition is relegated to the environment domain alone and does not cover social and human capital. The United Nations has identified gender equality as one of the key Millennium Development Goals, validating the fact that every small victory is a step forward for the larger good. Like Mama Sylvia’s story.

Gertrude Nabukeera, or Mama Sylvia as she is usually known, stands with her arms resting on her hips as she supervises a handful of men unloading the catch from a fishing boat. It’s early in the morning and the boats are bringing their night’s catch in at the Nakatiba landing site, on the island of Bugala in Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest expanse of fresh water. More than 400m long and lined with motor-driven boats, this landing site is owned and run by Mama Sylvia.There are concrete stalls from which she sells the catch of the day, and to the right an icebox the size of a freight container in which she stores the fish.

It’s unusual for a woman to be the boss of a fishing business in Uganda, or anywhere else for that matter, but even more surprising is the fact that she herself was once a fisherwoman – one fisherwoman among many, many fishermen.

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The BIG Backwater Conservation Story

A fish sanctuary in the making on Lake Vembanad, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Scroll

A fish sanctuary in the making on Lake Vembanad, Kerala, India. PHOTO: Scroll

We love the backwaters. Period. Every single time one of our Xandari Riverscapes houseboats puts out into these deep waters, our hearts swell with pride. Responsible showcasing the charm, the timelessness of these waters and its people brings us much joy. And when we come across conservation efforts to maintain the quintessence and soul of this stretch of paradise, we can’t help but let you know.

Spread over 36,000 hectares and three districts in Kerala, this is the kind of landscape that gives conservation ecologists a blinding headache – a resource-rich, highly-productive area that is pulled apart in several directions (waste-dumping, tourism, livelihoods, water security) and depended upon by conflicting communities who have no other alternatives. Lakes have been straddling this intersection all across India – from Chilika in Odisha, to the Bengaluru urban lakes, to Loktak in Manipur, to Vembanad.

Such heavy-use landscapes outside protected areas, however, also might hold answers to the future of conservation. Whether it is a large lake system, or forest fragments that serve as the refuge of a few species or a corridor for wild animals, or a forest fringe, or large agricultural swathes that also host biodiversity, a section of conservationists believes that the future lies in teamwork between nature and mankind.

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In the Name of the ‘Salvation’ Fish

Also known as candlefish, eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) are so oily that they can ignite when dried. Traditionally, eulachon were used at times as lights by Nisga'a people.  PHOTO:  PAUL COLANGELO

Also known as candlefish, eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) are so oily that they can ignite when dried. Traditionally, eulachon were used at times as lights by Nisga’a people. PHOTO: PAUL COLANGELO

A Nisga'a woman hangs eulachon on a ganee'e, or air-drying rack. PHOTO: PAUL COLANGELO

A Nisga’a woman hangs eulachon on a ganee’e, or air-drying rack. PHOTO: PAUL COLANGELO

Often referred to as “salvation fish” for safeguarding native people from starvation, the eulachon is now in need of a lifeline itself—as its habitat and population are in danger. National Geographic reports on the fish’s historical and cultural significance and the the many changes in the ocean that have led to the decline of the eulachon’s numbers:

The fish are also known as halimotkw, often translated as “savior fish” or “salvation fish.” Eulachon return to the rivers here to spawn at the end of the North Pacific winter, when historically food supplies would be running low. In lean years the eulachon’s arrival meant the difference between life and death for people up and down the coast.

Today, the fish that used to safeguard native people from starvation is itself in need of a lifeline.

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Sustainable Seafood, from Dock to Dish

Sixteen Santa Barbara-based fishermen are participating in the Dock to Dish pilot program in California. Seen are Keith and Tiffani Andrews fishing for ridgeback shrimp on the fishing vessel Alamo. PHOTO:   Sarah Rathbone

Sixteen Santa Barbara-based fishermen are participating in the Dock to Dish pilot program in California. Seen are Keith and Tiffani Andrews fishing for ridgeback shrimp on the fishing vessel Alamo. PHOTO: Sarah Rathbone

You’ve heard of farm-to-table. At its heart, farm-to-table means that the food on the table came directly from a specific farm. Also emphasizes a direct relationship between a farm and a restaurant or store. The vocabulary of the movement is changing now to include produce from the seas, giving birth to the concept of dock to dish.

The pile of fish marks an important step toward a fundamentally different way that prominent chefs are beginning to source American seafood: the restaurant-supported fishery. Call it an evolutionary leap from community-supported-agriculture programs, which support local farmers, and community-supported fisheries, which support small-scale fishermen. Both models rely on members who share the risks of food production by pre-buying weekly subscriptions.

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Veeshuvala – Local Fishing Net

Photo credits : Ramesh Kidangoor

Photo credits : Ramesh Kidangoor

There are many fishing techniques employed in the backwaters, rivers and canals of Kerala. The local people have a name for each tool and method employed to trap the fish. The most common is Veeshuvala, where a circular net, six to seven meters in diameter and weighted at the edges, is thrown from the shores in a distinctive fashion – a quick spin of the body to gain momentum, then releasing the gathered net at just the right moment. The weights ensure that the net flares out like a umbrella before it lands on the water. A string attached to the hub is then pulled from the banks to haul in the trapped fish. This method of fishing is very common in Kerala especially during monsoon. Continue reading

Backwater Fishing

Kerala is a land of rivers, lakes, lagoons, rivulets and beautiful canals filled with rich and diversified fish fauna, many of which are rare and endemic species. Fisherman ply the Vemabanad Lake, Ashtamudi Lake and Kayamkulam Lake as well as the backwaters still using using traditional methods, including Chinese fishing nets as well as small nets that are cast by hand.

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Careful What You Fish For

A recent article in TIME Magazine alerted me to how easy it is for us as consumers to shrug off the warnings of a changing world. I am guilty of it and I have caught myself, and hope that with this change I pledge to make, you might think about it too…

I’m humbled by the cognitive dissonance of knowing how sensitive the planet’s oceans are while hungrily indulging in sushi and fish filets with a comfortable negligence regarding their origins. Food choices like these, the effects of which are typically underestimated as a mere drop in the ocean, are proving to have a bigger ripple effect than we’d like to think. And it’s high time we all thought about the fish on our dish and just how it got there.

The article in TIME by Bryan Walsh reminded me of a memorable excerpt from a conversation between some friends of mine:

Q: “So what did porcupine taste like? Does it taste like chicken?”

A: “It tastes like… have you ever eaten donkey?”

As hysterical as it was for me at the time, it made me think, is the sometimes absurd variety of the human palate an evolutionary response to a scarcity of resources?

Ok so there’s no imminent extinction of livestock; there is many a happy cow in California, the UK alone consumes nearly 30 million eggs per day, and just look at New Zealand’s sheep-to-people ratio. But what about the animals we still hunt for sustenance? Continue reading

Scuba Fishing

This morning Pierre and I got up early to go on a scuba fishing expedition with Jacinto and Juan. Using a kayak to cross the wide and deep channel the sea was cutting into the estuary, we headed to a spot where the waves were a bit calmer, and the fishermen came in a small motorboat to take us over to the Eco I. Unfortunately, it turned out that the smaller boat was to be our vessel for the morning, since the Eco I was out of fuel. A green air compressor machine sat in the middle of the boat, and the long air hose sat coiled at the bow with a couple pairs of flippers and snorkel sets.

Pierre and I installed ourselves at the stern and started putting on sunscreen. “The water visibility is a bit low today, but we will try to find some lobsters,” said Jacinto in Spanish. Juan drove the boat past Morgan’s Rock and close to the rocks on the next cove over. Then he handed the tiller to Jacinto and started pulling on some flippers, signaling for me to do the same. The two fishermen showed me how to operate the air regulator, which was the same sort found on a tank scuba set, and they helped tie the hose so that it fell over my shoulder and across my back.

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