Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Seafood Prices & Fate of Local Fishermen

The health benefits of seafood consumption are significant and everyone would benefit from eating more seafood. Check out Seafood Health Facts for more information about the benefits and risk of seafood consumption.

However, the price of seafood is a major obstacle to consumption. Last year I wrote: "The average consumer spends about $37.62 for a basket of groceries, which rises to $61.58 when meat is added, or $76.40 when seafood is added. Seafood is apparently one of the most expensive items for consumers, and when retail prices rise, on all items and not just seafood, it seems that consumers will often purchase even less seafood.

And seafood prices are likely to rise once again which means even less people will garner the health benefits of fish. 

Recently, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) approved significant catch reductions on a number of fish species. Two of those cuts include a 77% reduction on the Gulf of Maine cod limits and a 61% reduction on Georges Bank cod limits. The cuts will take effect May 1 and the Gulf of Maine reduction will remain in place for the next three years while the Georges Bank reduction will be in place for one year. The Council is basing the need for these great cuts on scientific evidence that assessments of these species are at record lows. It is also  pointed out that fishermen have been having trouble filling previous fish quotas, allegedly another indication of low stock levels.

What will these drastic cuts mean for the local fishing industry? The NEFMC conducted an economic analysis which predicts that overall groundfish revenues for fishermen would drop by about one-third. How well would you handle it if your paycheck was suddenly reduced by one-third? Some local fishermen believe the projection is too conservative and that the cuts will drive a significant number of fishermen out of business. At this point, it appears little will be done to financially assist these fishermen so it could very well lead to some fishermen having to leave the industry.

This is a delicate balancing act, trying to save fish species while also saving the fishing industry. Accurate information and science is necessary to provide the best solution to this dilemma. I have previously discussed some of the issues surrounding such matters but that is not the central issue of this post. Instead, I want to concentrate on pricing and consumption.

With reduced catch limits, and the financial cuts faced by local fishermen, it is inevitable that seafood prices will rise. That will mean that less consumers will purchase seafood, which doesn't help anyone. Consumers won't derive seafood's health benefits and fishermen will have difficulty selling their catch, causing them financial hardship. That is a situation that desperately needs change though the solutions are probably not easy.

What are some potential solutions?

Chef Rich Garcia, of 606 Congress, made a good point on his blog by calling for "the promotion of underutilized species." There is plenty of seafood which is rarely seen in stores and restaurants because it is not "popular." People need to diversify their taste and embrace the less common fish available, which usually are less expensive and more sustainable. Other chefs have voiced that same sentiment and last year, I proposed that same sentiment in my Rant, Stop Eating Cod, Tuna & Salmon. With a greater demand for such less common fish, local fishermen will make more effort to catch such species and that will help the fishermen survive better too.

If you still want to eat the more popular groundfish, but the price turns you off, then just buy less fish than you would usually. Most of us eat too much for dinner anyways and we would do better with smaller portions. Can't afford a pound of fish? Then buy a half-pound instead. Eating a little less fish is much better than eating no fish at all. It is better for your health and can help support local fishermen too, provided you purchase local seafood. A recent report indicated that the U.S. imports an incredible 91% of the their seafood. We need to purchase more local seafood and support local businesses.

There are no easy answers to any of these dilemmas. We can be sure though that people need to eat more seafood and that local fishermen need our support. Let us all work toward those objectives. If anyone has some suggestions, please post them in the comments.

1 comment:

Chef Rich Garcia said...

One challenge that we are faced with is how to catch these underutilized species without catching those in danger? Most of those species are caught when fishing for cod & haddock. So in theory, once the quotas are met fro cod & haddock, then even if we want to, we will not be able to catch the underutilized species. This is where gear and targeting specific species will benefit from research dollars to help find a solution to keep our fishing communities afloat.