Politics of the Plate:
What’s the Catch?

Finally, some good news about seafood.

After more than a decade of reporting on the collapse of various fisheries around the world, I must confess that it feels a little strange to be writing a good-news story.

But in a study published in the July 31 issue of Science magazine, Mike Fogarty of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center at Woods Hole, MA, and 20 co-authors found convincing evidence that efforts to rebuild depleted fisheries are starting to pay off. In five of the ten large ocean ecosystems they studied around the globe, efforts to reduce overfishing are succeeding, the researchers reported.

Fogarty points out that while it is difficult to strike a balance between fishing and conservation, a number of fisheries have been able to make it work. “Many of the world’s fisheries have a long history of overexploitation,” he said in a press release. “Different management tools are needed, depending on the situation, to restore marine ecosystems and rebuild fisheries. It takes time. Sometimes the steps to get to recovery are painful, but the dividends at the end make it worthwhile.”

Fogarty singled out the waters off New Zealand and the U.S. West Coast as examples of successes. In the northeastern U.S., haddock, scallops, and other fish stocks are also recovering. If the trend continues, the well-known prediction that the world’s fisheries will totally collapse by 2048 might not come to pass.

But there is a catch. Despite the heartening results of Fogarty’s survey, fully 68 percent of the fisheries examined by the team still need rebuilding, and some species remain vulnerable to extinction.

Conservationists have plenty of work ahead of them. But Fogarty’s analysis shows that with patience, intelligence, and short-term economic sacrifice, we still can save the oceans.

And doing your part to protect fisheries just became a whole lot easier. A new website, FishChoice lists 130 suppliers selling 300 sustainable seafood products, including Americans’ five most popular species: shrimp, tuna, salmon, pollock, and tilapia.

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