Like community supported agriculture, community supported fisheries could be a way to lessen environmental impact of the fishing industry and better connect people with their food.
My commercial fishing career ended many years ago, but I still have a bunch of memories of the destruction that I participated in. My father was also in the fishing industry and for a long time afterwards couldn’t even bring himself to look at photos of him alongside bluefin tuna, broadbill, marlin, shark and other species; photos that were once a great source of pride.
Probably the worst forms of fishing I was involved with were bottom trawl and scallop dredging. We ripped up the ocean floor and pretty much scooped up anything that wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way.
One of the things that struck me even during that time of ignorance was the huge amount of waste involved. During general bottom trawling we used to pick up all sorts of species; many of which were tossed overboard as there was no market for them or we were not permitted to sell them. They didn’t swim happily away as they were already dead.
A good example; which was prior to my time, was the case of the flathead. It’s not the prettiest of fish, but in my opinion, one of the tastiest. These used to be thrown overboard as they were considered “trash”; but today, you’ll pay AU$ 45 a kilogram for flathead fillets (around USD $23 a pound). Once trash, now treasure.
As it has been so long since I last worked in the industry, I’m not sure what the story is locally now; but in Europe, the issue of “discards” is still a big issue. This isn’t just due to consumer taste or ignorance; but also the result of laws – some of which are well-intentioned, but miss the mark.
According to Fish Fight, an estimated 1.7 million tonnes of fish are thrown back overboard in Europe annually. In the North Sea, half of the fish caught are thrown back dead.
Progress is being made on reversing some bans, but consumers also need to get a little more adventurous by trying different species; some of which can be as tasty as their favorites and are often much cheaper.
Another way to do more with what we harvest from the ocean is via community supported fishery (CSF). Members of a community supported fishery pay an amount each week to a single operator or a fisher’s co-op and in return receive a share of the harvest – any species that is suitable for human consumption. Thinking back to what we used to catch, this arrangement can provide a lot of variety.
The trawler operators also receive a better price than they would at market. While trawling can never be truly green; a properly run Community Supported Fishery means a fisher can do less work for more money – and less work means less trawling and fewer fish needing to be pulled from the oceans; plus far less waste.
If you live in a fishing community and are interested in starting up a CSF, check out the National Sea Grant Law Center’s “Starting and Maintaining Community Supported Fishery (CSF) Programs”; which can be downloaded here (PDF).