The Once and Future Cod
November 23, 2012
It's awesome to think about all the bounty we have to be grateful for here on Cape Cod at this time of year. And as always, oysters, clams, scallops, and lobsters were important guests at our Thanksgiving table.
Fish, after all, was surely the main dish at those first settler-native dinner parties. The English explorers who named this cape were amazed by the abundance of huge cod they saw here. And history books point out that the pilgrims who came later would have starved if the native people had not taught them to fish.
Yet one fish we didn't eat this year was cod.
The reason is not that the fishermen have reached the legal limit. The Northeast Seafood Coalition, an industry group, says fishermen have caught only 19% of the season's allowed quota. Instead, they just aren't finding many cod (or other groundfish like flounder, for that matter) out there.
We're shocked by that. And by more that's being reported now.
First, the folks charged with creating quotas ten years ago--the New England Fisheries Management Council--somehow overestimated the numbers of fish out there back when they were creating the rules. Well, it turns out the rebound in cod that we were led to expect has just not happened. Suddenly, reports confirm that Gulf of Maine cod is at 19% of its target population, and on George's Bank it's only at 8%.
We agree with the Conservation Law Foundation on this: government regulators have been essentially co-opted by industrial fishing. It's no different from the way the agencies that should protect our farm-based food supply have been co-opted by agribusiness. And that leaves our oceans, our fishery, and all of us in real danger.
If you follow the news, you've probably heard that the New England groundfishery was recently declared a "disaster" by the Commerce Department. Okay, so some financial aid may be available when new, drastic cuts in quotas come into play this spring. But that doesn't get to the bottom of things.
To blunt the blow of cuts in allowable catch that may go as deep as 90% next season, the Council is proposing to open protected areas that have been closed since the mid-1990s. We think that's a bad idea. We've got to give the cod somewhere to grow and reproduce.
One thing you might not know is that our local fishermen did not bring this on themselves. They've been saying for years now that the quotas were not enough to turn things around. Most of them are members of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, where they've been working on additional strategies, including pushing for protection of the herring that cod thrive on. They're committed to sustainability, working with traditional gear, which means hook and line and gill nets that do not damage the groundfish habitat. They are working on a small scale, though all around them "fleet consolidation" is a growing trend: the top 10% of boats bring in 58% of revenues these days.
We're lucky to have these future-oriented fishermen working our waters. And we hope you'll join us in supporting their way of working.
At Mac’s, our main goal is this: we buy local so you can buy local. When it comes to cod, we'll continue to sell what our local fishermen catch because that means it was found in season, inshore, and caught with traditional gear––the best ways to fish sustainably. Farther out, in the Gulf of Maine, the cod fishing rate is now six times sustainable levels, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (part of NOAA). We are buying some cod landed in Boston. We can trace that cod all the way to the boat it was caught on. But we are asking staff to let you know that this is fish that comes from farther away and to encourage you to try some alternatives.
We're also listening to our fishermen on the subject of locally abundant species. Stay tuned for a dogfish cook-off that will bring together chefs from around the Cape to share techniques and recipes.
Now, more than ever, we want to strengthen the CSF (Community Supported Fishery) aspects of our work. How about a local, seasonal whole-fish buying program to get you more involved in our ongoing adventure of buying straight from the source?
This story is far from over. We'll keep talking about it as we learn more. Please let us know what you think.
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