Site by N.E. Stolpe

Number 2
August 23, 1998

Link to NJ Fishing Consumer Alert page Link to NJ Fishing Consumer Alert page

The commercial fishing industry - target of opportunity?

The negative impacts - sometimes actual but more often exaggerated - of seafood harvesting have made up a large part of the ocean dialogue for over a decade. In recent years there have been attempts to relate virtually every out-of-the-ordinary occurence in any body of salt or brackish water to one commercial fishing activity or another. Every time a recreational angler needs an excuse for why, with a $50,000 outboard motorboat and $10,000 worth of fishing poles and fish-finding and navigational electronics, he didn’t catch enough fish, he can blame commercial fishing. Every time an environmental organization needs a boost in membership, a larger foundation grant, a cause to flog or a "let’s get the bad guys" sound byte, there’s commercial fishing. And whenever anyone suggests that the U.S. taxpayers might not be getting much return from their half a billion dollar a year investment in fisheries management, the response from the managers always seems to include shifting blame to the commercial fishermen.

In the last decade various people and organizations have become exceedingly adept at pointing out in elaborate, usually overblown [Link to a far off-base quote from the New York Times], detail what’s wrong with commercial fishing. It seems to have become an almost guaranteed way to attract high levels of funding at a time when the quest for research dollars has become exceedingly competitive. While it’s probably not necessary to state it here, finding - or manufacturing - fault with commercial fishing has become a sizeable industry.

The commercial fishing industry - what is it good for?

At the same time we seem to have lost sight of the enduring and ongoing contributions that working fishermen and the results of their labors have for generations made to our health, our economy, our quality of life and our coastal heritage.

from The Times-Picayune 
New Orleans, Louisiana
August 6, 1998 

By Jerald Horst 

At the end of July, about 90 scientists, environmentalists and shrimp industry representatives met in Kenner to discuss the risks posed to native shrimp populations by foreign shrimp viruses. These deadly viruses came to their attention when shrimp farms in Asia and Latin America experienced high losses from infection.

These were followed by virus outbreaks on shrimp farms in Texas and South Carolina that farmed non-native Pacific white and blue shrimp. About 80 percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States are imported; half of them are produced on farms.

The major issue is whether importing these non-native shrimp for either aquaculture or consumption will spread these viral diseases to native Gulf of Mexico shrimp, and if they are infected, what the effects will be.

Scientists at the workshop said viruses causing four shrimp diseases are present and will continue to be present in imported shrimp. Pathways for the viruses to reach wild native populations were identified as escape of non-native, infected shrimp from U.S. shrimp farms; water discharge and storm tide flooding of these farms; direct discharges from seafood plants that process imports; seagulls feeding at landfills containing shrimp wastes; and the recreational use of infected bait shrimp.

Where the scientists disagreed was on the impact of this spread. Little is known about how infectious and deadly these viruses would be on native shrimp in the wild. If native wild brown, pink and white shrimp are affected in a way similar to non-native Pacific shrimp on farms, thousands of jobs in the domestic shrimp industry could be lost."

When was the last time anyone agonized over the loss of natural habitat in Orlando or Las Vegas? Actually, when was the last time anyone thought, or cared, that there was any natural habitat left in either? When was the last time you saw someone watching a nesting osprey from an idling jet ski [Link to phot of JetSki/Ecotour sign coincidentally, two weeks after writing this we came across a sign in front of a watersports concession in Corolla on Cape Hatteras, NC that advertised both jet ski rentals and ecotours. Perhaps a candidate for the most internally inconsistent sign of the deacde?]. But as we’ve seen - fortunately much less frequently in recent years - the public responds immediately, loudly and convincingly whenever there’s an assault on the quality of their local seafood. When it affects what’s on their table, ocean quality issues become very significant to people very quickly. Commercial fishing provides tangible proof that our waters have a value that far transends their use for recreation, entertainment and transportation.
Photo of Spainish coastline
Waterfront development on the southern coast of Spain 
(P.Stolpe photo) 
The commercial fishing industry - can we keep it around?

It would seem there are compelling reasons for maintaining a healthy, economically viable commercial fishing industry. But are we?

This is the big question. Commercial fishing is facing challenges today that few people outside the industry are aware of, challenges that are having dramatic cumulative impacts on the small businesses that make up the domestic fishing industry, impacts that many of these businesses aren’t capable of absorbing. In this FishNet we’ve tried to show you what’s at risk. We’ll be looking at the specific challenges and the effects they are having - on the fishing businesses and on the communities they are an integral part of - over the next several months.

The Natural Resources Defense Council - that group that brought us the Alar apple scare a few years back [Link to NJ FishNet #15 - NRDC/Alar discussion] - is one of the leaders in the anti-commercial fishing movement. With their publication Hook, Line, and Sinking - the Crisis in Marine Fisheries they "make their case" for inflicting on working fishermen the equivalent of the impacts their Alar hysteria had on the agricultural industry. But are the conditions in the fisheries all that bad? Following are parts of titles of NRDC publications listed on their web site. While such titles would seem to be more appropriate to the shelves overlooking supermarket check-out counters, they’ve evidently become quite important in influencing public opinion*. We’ll leave it to our readers to judge how justified the levels of hysterical alarmism they reach actually are: 

"Year of Living Dangerously…. Public Health Threats From.... Arsenic, Radioactive Radon, and Trihalomethanes in Our Drinking Water…. Failure of the Nation’s Drinking Water System to Protect Public Health…. Politics and Pollution…. Congress’ Continuing Attack on the Environment…. Gutting Environmental Protection…. Congress’ Assault on Clean Waters…. Are Children Its First Victims?… Exposure and Toxicity to Infants and Children…. Out of Breath: Children’s Health and Air Pollution…. Our Children at Risk:…. No Safe Harbor:…. Violations of Federal Health Standards in Tap Water…. Hog Wash: Factory Farm Giveaways…. Testing the Waters VI: Who Knows What You’re Getting Into…. Healing the Waters of Greater Cleveland: Poison Runoff Problems…. Children and Environmental Carcinogens…. Getting the Dirt on Your Electric Company…. Gathering Storm: Coming Environmental Battles…. Forests on the Line…. Flying Off Course: Environmental Impacts of America’s Airports…. Falling Trees and Fading Promises…. The Dirty Little Secret About Our Drinking Water:…. Whale Sanctuary ‘In Danger’…. Damage Report: Environment and the 104th Congress…. Contaminated Catch: The Public Health Threat from Toxics in Fish…. Breath-Taking: Premature Mortality Due to Particulate Air Pollution…. Breach of Faith: How the Contract’s Fine Print Undermines America’s Environmental Success."

*Surprisingly, in the titles of over 20 listed publications dealing with nuclear power, research or weaponry - in various countries including China, Iran and India - the NRDC’s vocabulary doesn’t get much stronger than difficult or alert. Kind of makes you wonder who’s setting their priorities?

- The Oil Slick -
"Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, in a decision that was widely anticipated, said companies would be allowed to look for oil on four million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve, west of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields where wells already feed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline." 
(NY Times, 08/07/98). 

[Link to article on under-the-ice oil transport via submarinefor an interesting article dealing with another facet of oil industry development]


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