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There’s a very good chance that the fish you order at a restaurant or serve at home was not caught in U.S. waters. About 90 percent of the seafood we consume is imported and much of this is produced on seafood farms. Seafood pens in the ocean and sometimes on land are thought to be the key to developing a sustainable source of seafood, but they raise serious environmental challenges as well. For this month’s Environmental Outlook, we explore new efforts to meet the growing world demand for sustainable seafood.
Joel K. Bourne Jr. explored the world’s fish farming industry in “How to Farm a Better Fish,” which appears in the June issue of National Geographic magazine.
To explore photos from Bourne’s story, click through the gallery below.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report on sustainable seafood last month.
Here are some of their major findings (credit: FAO of the UN).
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Seafood is a critical part of our diet, but it's not clear if supply can stay ahead of demand. With wild fish stock stagnating, fish farms are increasingly viewed as the way forward. But seafood farming, also known as aquaculture, presents its own challenges. For this month's environmental outlook, producing sustainable seafood.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio, John Connelly of the National Fisheries Institute, Samuel Rauch of NOAA Fisheries, Joel Bourne with National Geographic Magazine. And joining us by phone from Bogota, Colombia, Aaron McNevin of the World Wildlife Fund. You are always invited to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet.
MS. DIANE REHMWelcome to all of you.
MR. SAMUEL RAUCHThank you, Diane. It's good to be here.
MR. JOEL BOURNEThank you. It's great to be here, Diane.
MR. AARON MCNEVINThanks, Diane.
REHMGood to see you all. John Connelly, I'll start with you. Last night I had the most wonderful bowl of fresh mussels. I'm sure I'm not the only one who enjoys seafood. Give us an idea of the demand for seafood in this country now.
MR. JOHN CONNELLYSure. Well, first of all, that bowl of mussels is going to help you live forever because seafood is obviously the healthiest protein we have out there.
CONNELLYSo we're glad you enjoy that. And we eat about 16 pounds of seafood per year. That's a relatively stable trend over the course of the last ten to twelve years. And that doesn't favorably compare with meat, which we're about 75 pounds. And some of that has to do with availability and our ability to present this in a way that's very easy for consumers. So we need to work on that.
REHMYou know, it used to be that fish and seafood were actually less expensive than beef and lamb and veal and other meats. That seems to have changed a lot. What's happened?
CONNELLYI think particularly the poultry industry has done a very good job of consolidating so that they get economies of scale. But also producing mass amounts in a way that consumers can readily use also. We don't debone a chicken. How many people can debone a chicken right now? And sometimes we're still asking people to debone a fish. And so our responsibility as the industry is to make sure that we make things as easy as possible to the consumer. And that's what our members are trying to do.
REHMAnd to you, Joel Bourne, you are a contributing writer at National Geographic. How do the trends in this country compare to what's happening worldwide?
BOURNEWell, we actually eat very little percentagewise. Our stock, as John said, comes from seafood whereas overseas it provides protein for almost a billion people in Oceania. It's a huge part of the people's food source in China, India, Thailand where most of the farmed seafood is grown. So it's a very important protein supply for many people around the world.
REHMSo what's happened? Why is most of the seafood, the fish that we eat in this country now being imported?
BOURNEWell, there are a couple of reasons. I think price is one, but also there's just been this tremendous rise in the growth of fish farms, aquaculture, since the 1980s. We've -- the amount of production coming from these farms has increased 14 fold since 1980, whereas the amount of wild fish caught has been roughly stagnant since the mid 1990s. So now we're producing nearly the same amount of fish and seafood products from farms as we are actually harvesting from the wild.
REHMBut so how much of fish caught in this country and farmed in this country is actually exported?
BOURNEWe do export some. I guess John would be better since he deals with export.
CONNELLYDepending on the region, places like Alaska will export up to a third or half of their product to Asia in the form of roe or some salmon products. And a lot of the white fish will go to Europe. Similarly in New England the French love our scallops and lobsters. So between a third and half is actually exported.
REHMAnd Samuel Rauch -- and forgive me for having originally mispronounced your name -- many people say that the management of fisheries off the coast in this country is a real success story that many people just don't realize. Tell us what's been happening.
RAUCHWell, yes, thank you. Overtime in the early '80s we were overfishing many of our stocks, both here and worldwide. And since then we've seen massive improvements in the way that we've domestically managed our fish. We've essentially ended overfishing. We've rebuilt stocks at the same time. We have record or near-record landings and revenue from our fish stocks demonstrating that we can be good environmental stewards and at the same time contribute both to the food supply and the economy.
RAUCHWe've done that by having an extensive science program where we go out and survey the fish stocks every year. We monitor all the environmental parameters. We estimate what is a sustainable population. We then take that to a advisory body of -- that our fishery management councils which have state government officials, federal officials, scientists, environmentalists, local government officials on there. And within the scientific boundaries, they determine how much fish you could catch every year and who can catch them and why. That process has proved very successful at making sure we stay within what the science dictates and still maximizing our economic opportunity.
REHMSo how has the U.S. fishing industry changed as a result of this kind of management?
RAUCHWe're seeing many of our bigger fisheries go to what we call a catch-share kind of program where...
RAUCHCatch-share where individual fishermen or fishing vessels get a certain portion of the catch. They have a right -- if you had 100 fish they have a right to take 10 of those fish. They could take them whenever they want so that they can dictate the market dynamics. We used to be in a system where we would do what was called racing for the fish. Out of those 100 fish whoever had the biggest, fastest boat would get them. And that would create market gluts as all those 100 fish would come into the market at the same time, driving the prices down.
RAUCHIf you spread it out you allow the fishermen more of an ownership sense into the fishery. They can also determine when the best time to land those fish are so that you've met your conservation goal because you're still not taking more than 100 fish but you're also allowing them to interact with the restaurants so that you know every week we will have a certain number of fish, rather than this huge market glut that comes in. We used to have...
REHMBut what's happened to the American fishermen in the process?
RAUCHWe've seen the fishermen become more of sophisticated business people. The fisheries are changing from what used to be a traditional sort of -- well, like many industries in this country, what used to be a small mom and pop kind of fisheries with small boat fisheries into fishermen that are a lot more sophisticated. They understand the market dynamics. They understand the global dynamics.
RAUCHThe fishermen now are importers, exporters. They understand the market in China. They understand Europe. They understand what it takes to get into Europe.
REHMBut Aaron McNevin, turning to you at the -- pardon me -- World Wildlife Fund, some people say that American fishermen are becoming extinct because they see so much fish and seafood offered by foreign companies. How do you see it?
MCNEVINWell, I see that aquaculture is really one of the -- well, it's the fastest growing form of food production in the world right now. And so there's a way that we've gone and migrated from the idea of industrial hunting and gathering, which is fishing, where there aren't those types of controls in other countries and that we do have in the U.S. And so what we've seen are stocks being depleted more largely in the ocean. The UN FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, estimates that about 85 percent of global fisheries are overfished or over exploited. So I think that it's a natural phenomenon for aquaculture to come in as we migrate from hunting and gathering to farm-level production.
REHMJoel Bourne, tell me how you did your story, where you went and what you saw.
BOURNESure. Well, the National Geographic, we've got an eight-month series we're doing on how to feed the world by 2050. We got another 2 billion people coming on. People have been very focused on how we double food production, mostly grain production. But often discounted is the great inequities you get by feeding all this grain to cattle or to pigs and chickens when fish are actually incredible and efficient converters of grain to meat.
BOURNESo we wanted to really focus on potential aquaculture operations that sort of would shed this image they've had in the past at being these feedlot operations in the sea and see, okay, what are really some of the ones that can provide good healthy protein for the future at a much expended rate? So we went to Panama and looked at an offshore operation where they're actually farming cobia and...
BOURNECobia, a fish that's a sport fished typically in the southeast, but is...
REHMHow large is it?
BOURNEOh, they can grow to a 100 pounds...
REHMOh, I see.
BOURNE...but he's growing them to about 8 pounds -- 8 to 10 pounds, filet size. They're incredibly healthy. He's growing them offshore in these massive pens so there's a lot of flow. It's in a very low-nutrient part of the ocean so anything that gets out of the pens gets immediately sort of scarfed up by zooplankton, phytoplankton, the bigger picture. So there's very little pollution has been taken outside the pen.
BOURNENow whether he can make it economical or not everybody is very -- is watching. Because if he makes the success, we might see more and more of these operations in deep offshore waters down the road to really get to what Jacque Cousteau sort of talked about in the 1970s where we would actually start farming the deep oceans.
BOURNENow one of the other operations we looked at was in Martinsburg, Va.-- or Martinsville, Va. where we have one of the largest indoor tilapia fish farms in the world. It's a process called RSA a recirculating agriculture -- RAS, excuse me, recirculating agriculture. And it was just where they're growing these fish in high density on land.
REHMI want to hear more about that after a short break. That was the voice of Joel Bourne of National Geographic. Short break, I'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break you heard Joel Bourne talking about tilapia being grown on land in West Virginia. Talk a little more about that.
BOURNEWell, it's an interesting operation and one of these processes in which we think that, okay, maybe we can expand aquaculture and have less impact on coastal waters and on the ocean. And so he's growing these tilapia in a warehouse next to a NASCAR speedway. And -- but because it's a fairly expensive operation -- I mean, he's got a water filtration system that's the size of a small town to keep the water clean. And there's a waste issue associated with it, so it's not completely, you know, free of an impact.
BOURNEBut he's taken these tilapia, he's got a complete controlled environment. He's got no impact on the surrounding watershed. And he's selling these live fish into Asian fish markets up and down the east coast.
REHMAnd what kind of an impact is that sort of niche farming going to have on aquaculture as a whole, John Connelly?
CONNELLYThere's a fish for every wallet, there's a fish for every pallet. And what Joel just described is a very high-end niche market that goes to a very interesting live market. Particularly the Asian market wants to see the fish still swimming. They want to pick out the individual fish that they'll eat. Tilapia coming over from China or Indonesia obviously is not going to come live. It's going to come frozen, so that's going to be done at a much less expensive price level.
CONNELLYSo if you go to your local Safeway or Kroger or Giant, etcetera you're typically going to pick up a frozen fish that's less expensive. That's not to say that's not a great niche market. It's a fish for every wallet, a fish for every pallet.
REHMNow what about seafood, Samuel Rauch, like scallops, like mussels, like lobster, like shrimp? Where does that fit in? Is most of that coming to us from overseas? Are we still relying on Maine for lobster?
RAUCHWe are still relying on Maine for lobster. One thing about our imports, we do import 90 percent of our seafood but a lot of that is U.S. product that is exported out of the U.S. for processing and then it comes back into the United States. So much of that import are really U.S. product we develop that comes back...
REHMBut why are we sending it out for processing?
RAUCHIt's cheaper to process in another country. It is cheaper to pay the shipping than to do it here. Our individual fishermen fish processors have determined that's a business model that works for them.
REHMJoel, you're shaking your head.
BOURNENo. I think it's very interesting that we can't afford to process fish in the United States.
REHMWhat do you think about that, Aaron?
MCNEVINI think that -- you know, it's -- these are economies of scale. If it's not feasible for these fish in the United States, it's going to be -- I mean, if it's not feasible to process fish in the United States, it's going to be done overseas. But we do process fish in the United States, particularly with the U.S. catfish farm.
REHMSo give us a sense of the overall operation, John Connelly, the larger farmed seafood operations around the world. Give us that picture.
CONNELLYSure. Maybe to directly answer this question about jobs though. The Commerce Department actually analyzed where the jobs in the full seafood supply chain exist. And about 450,000 of the million jobs are associated with imported seafood. So a company like Gorton's of Gloucester will actually bring in both domestic Pollack but they'll also bring in imported fish and process it in their operations in Gloucester, Mass. So they'll have 5 or 600 employees in Gloucester, Mass. that are totally reliant on imported food.
CONNELLYSo it's -- we need to be careful about saying foreign companies because Gorton's is a good long time -- Gorton's fish is a long time icon. And there are other fish companies like Trident up in Alaska or Arctic Storm or American Seafood that do something similar. Directly to your question though, we get most of our fish from overseas, the farmed fish and we'll get shrimp from Thailand, India, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Ecuador, Mexico. Salmon, the U.S. primarily gets from Chile, the U.S. and Canada. Because of a trade action we don't get as much from the powerhouse of Norway in farmed salmon.
CONNELLYTilapia we'll get from Ecuador, Central America, China, Indonesia. And then fish out of Vietnam called pangasius is about the fifth or sixth most consumed fish in the U.S. And that is nearly all just out of Vietnam.
REHMAnd how can I, as a consumer, know where my fish is coming from?
CONNELLYIn 2002 or '03 a law was passed called COOL which is country of origin labeling which requires retailers to put on the -- what's called the pick stick that you'll see at the local store the requirement of how it was fished -- or excuse me, how it was harvested, so if it was farmed or wild and the country of its origin. So that's all available to you at the retailer.
REHMAnd is there any difference in quality that the U.S. consumer is likely to experience between say lobster grown in Maine and lobster imported from another country?
CONNELLYThere are -- U.S. fisheries are extraordinarily well managed, as Sam said, and extraordinarily high quality. That is not to say though that a salmon from the Faroe Islands is absolutely spectacular. A farmed salmon out of Faroe Islands is an absolutely spectacular fish. Cobia from Panama is this teasingly exciting fish that we're all waiting for it to break through. So U.S. fisheries are well managed and good fish but that's not to say that you don't get great fish from overseas also.
REHMSo to what extent have say farmed shrimp operations replaced those that are caught in the wild?
RAUCHOh, that's a really interesting question. I'm sure John will have the stats on that but we -- most of the import -- shrimp that we eat in the United States are imported from southeast Asia and they're all farmed.
REHMThey're all farmed.
CONNELLYAbout 92 percent of the shrimp that we enjoy in the U.S. are farmed primarily because Sam and his team do a great job of managing and limiting how much we can catch. And that's what we want as a society is to set those scientific limits, catch as much as we can, leaving off for future generations. But then because we have this demand for healthy product and protein like seafood, we have to farm it. And so farms -- farming has to be done well but it can be done here and overseas.
REHMAaron, what do we know about the health of fish populations in other part of the world?
MCNEVINVery poor. A lot of the fisheries in Asia and southeast Asia are overexploited and a lot of the fish that are consumed now in southeast Asia and Asia are from farms because there are no more fish in the ocean. So a lot of the farms -- product that we eat, it originated with them supplementing their own lack of fisheries.
REHMSo as you went around the world looking at these farmed fish, what did you see?
BOURNEWell, two of the real exciting aspects of aquaculture that we looked at was a farm up in British Columbia off Vancouver Island called Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture, where one of the researchers there is growing a fed fish, a beautiful black cod that's native to the area, and then adorning the fish pens with Japanese lantern baskets full of scallops and clams. And then circling that with seaweeds that are edible, something we'd use for seaweed salad or sushi wrapper. And then even at the bottom, he's got sea cucumbers so they're sort of eating the detritus that falls to the bottom, all of which are marketed, all of which are sold, all of which are very sustainable.
BOURNESo here we have these multiple trophic levels of species, one fed species. And this model was -- has been used in China for thousands of years. They -- the famous Chinese rice fish diet that helps sustain them forever was a combination of animals that, you know, they would go in the rice paddy and carps would eat the bugs and they would eat the carps. And so it was this wonderful sort of synergistic method of food production that they're going back to in great troves.
REHMSo Sam Rauch, how do we, as consumers, know how healthy for us that farmed food, that farmed seafood or fish coming from other countries actually is?
RAUCHWell, the U.S. has an extensive food inspection service both at FDA and within NOAA. We have the seafood inspection service that we can -- most likely if you see an egg that's got a Grade A egg, you can actually get a grade for the fish. And we...
REHMOkay. But tell me how many inspectors you've got.
RAUCHWell, it varies because we -- depending on how many companies would like that service, we can have between 2 to 500 a year. And we inspect a certain portion but we certainly don't inspect all of the seafood coming in. To the extent that a consumer is concerned about where those foods were caught, you can choose to -- like the gulf shrimp, you can -- there are wild-caught gulf shrimp. And if you want that as opposed to the aquaculture gulf shrimp, they have little barcodes on the wild-caught gulf shrimp that you can go on there and see which boat caught it and when it caught it. And then you'll know that it's a wild product.
RAUCHSo they -- the level of nutrition that you get from many of these aquaculture shrimp imports are quite high oftentimes, and on par sometimes with the wild ones. But we know that, for instance, wild salmon is often quite good for you. Some of the wild products aren't quite good for you but that's not to say that the aquaculture products are not. And there are ways, if the consumer is concerned about that, to track and to trace their products. There are people that market that traceability for their own products.
CONNELLYIf I could, Diane, on the nutrient load or the database that USDA puts together, farmed and wild salmon actually have about the same amount of Omega 3s which is really the nutrient power punch that we're looking for to provide consumers, so most farmed and wild fish have about the same nutrition. As far as food safety though, there's often a question about will FDA suggest that FDA only inspects about 2 percent of seafood coming in. That ignores something called HACCP which is H-A-C-C-P, Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Point, which is the food safety system that we use here and is required to be used overseas when importing seafood in here.
CONNELLYCongress felt so comfortable about the effectiveness of this program that they actually required it for all the other foods that FDA regulates during our most recent Food Safety Modernization Act. The results though are probably most important in this. CDC, the Centers for Disease Control did a five-year study and looked at, what do the public health officials report as far as illnesses from various foods? 122,000 illnesses from foods in the year 2005 to 2010, 141 out of 122,000 were from imported seafood. That's 0.12 percent. I'll take those odds.
REHMNow does that include canned fish as well as fresh fish?
REHMInteresting. One more point before we take a break. We heard a few years back about mislabeling of fish. How big a problem is that for you today?
CONNELLYAny mislabeling is wrong, it's illegal and should be enforced. And we have worked with congress, we've worked with FDA to try to push that. And it's wrong because it hurts the good operators in the system. So it's a problem and we want to solve that problem.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Samuel Rauch.
RAUCHYeah, we've recently -- we've talked to the FDA about this mislabeling issue and what they found is most of the fish that are imported are labeled correctly. Where the mislabeling often occurs is between the wholesaler and the retailer, a restaurant getting the fish wrong or a grocery store getting the fish wrong. Also, many of the things that are mislabeled are easily misidentified species like snapper. There are lots and lots of different kinds of snapper species and it's hard even for a seasoned fisherman to understand them correctly.
REHMSo you're saying it's all by mistake and that none of it is deliberate?
RAUCHNo. I think it is deliberate at the retail level where it occurs. There is a substantial part of it that is a mistake from them. But when the wholesaler labels it one thing and the retailer intentionally changes it, that is deliberate and, as John said, we need to enforce that.
CONNELLYAnd I'm sorry, Diane, say a restaurant, they don't want to sell Patagonian toothfish. They would like to sell Chilean sea bass.
CONNELLYThat's an acceptable name from FDA. And so restaurateurs and chefs want to be creative in that. But FDA requires them to call it a certain name and that's why our organization, the National Fisheries Institute has worked out an memorandum of understanding with the National Restaurant Association saying we will help your members ensure that the labels are accurate on their menu, because it's important to us to make sure that fish is accurately labeled so the consumer gets what he or she thinks it should be.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones now. Let's go first to Chris in Pensacola, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
CHRISHi, Diane. Thanks. This country needs to do a lot better job of promoting aquaculture and environmentally letting it happen. But you've got three competing interests here. One of them often gets left out. You've got the seafood industry. You've got the environmental side of it that a lot of times they like a one-size-fits-all -- you know, they love closed areas and what have you. Then we've got the recreational fisherman.
CHRISAnd in our area in the Gulf and especially the northern Gulf, you've seen a very large collapse of our recreational industry in that we've gotten tightened regulations so much that you can't fish. And we've seen great explosions of fish populations and due to what we consider faulty science, we're not realizing those. And we've got some great groups in Alabama, along the coast of Mississippi doing great work with aquaculture and things like you were talking about the cobia.
CHRISBut we -- you know, we don't -- we've done a good job of regulating things but when it comes to our fish where the recreational value is so high that it's possible that some of these fisheries may need to lean a lot less to the seafood industry and a lot more to the recreational. Whereas, you know, in Alaska you've got a very good regulation on pitching crabs where there's no recreational fisheries, things like that. But down here our red snapper and our grouper and a lot of those fish are worth so much more as a recreational fish...
REHMAll right. Let's see what Sam Rauch has to say.
RAUCHThank you. Well, the caller's certainly right that in many areas of the country the economic value to this country of the recreational fishery is higher than the commercial fishery because you -- it is the -- when we talk about recreational fishing we're talking about people who can afford to go three miles offshore to catch these in the ocean. And so there's charter boats, there's gear, there's all the tourist impact of it.
RAUCHAnd for many -- for some species this is higher than the commercial industry, and oftentimes on par nationally with the commercial value. Some of the stocks are very-well managed. We had 70 million recreational angler trips last year. They caught nearly 380 million fish. That can be a lot of fish. That can rival the extractive capacity of a commercially-caught fish. So we have to manage them well. And...
REHMBut is that management regional or state by state or how is it done?
RAUCHWell, it's done both ways. If it's a fish that's caught in (word?) waters, it's done by the states. If it is out of the open ocean, it is caught by the -- it is regulated by the federal government. And we have challenges. We have challenges like with everything else to make sure that they are within their quota.
REHMClearly, all right. Short break here and when we come back, more of your calls, your email. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd joining us now is Ambassador David Balton. I gather, Mr. Ambassador, that you have Secretary of State Kerry's summit the week after next on the oceans coming up.
AMB. DAVID BALTONYes, that's right, Diane. Secretary Kerry is convening a major international conference here at the Department of State, June 16th and 17th. And he's focusing on three issues related to the oceans. One of which is the very topic you are talking about with your guests today, sustainable fisheries. He knows that the problems we are grappling with here in the United States are not unique to our country, that, in fact, many countries around the world have these problems.
AMB. DAVID BALTONAnd, indeed, that the solutions to many of these problems require new levels of cooperation among nations and industries and other organizations and scientists, that we're inviting all these people to Washington.
REHMAnd how many people from other nations will be participating?
BALTONWe're expecting people from between 70 and 80 different nations around the world. All told we expect to have around 350 to 400 people at the conference. The conference will also be streamed live on the internet. So, in principle, anybody could be watching it.
REHMAnd how much cooperation do you see among nations right now, in terms of fisheries, how fisheries are maintained, how the level of sanitation is maintained, and the import/export levels?
BALTONSo I've been working in this area for about 20 years. And over the course of that time I would say the levels of international cooperation on these issues have actually increased significantly, but the problems have also increased along with that. And the truth is that much more needs to be done. We need to find new ways of solving these problems collectively. Over-fishing, illegal fishing, certain types of fishing practices, these are still problems we are dealing with.
BALTONThe level of international trade in seafood products has continued to go up. A number of the other people on your program will certainly know that, even better than I. And so, yes, we need to do this together.
REHMWell, I appreciate your calling. Any comments from you, John Connelly?
CONNELLYI think what Ambassador Balton describes, as far as cooperation, there's a very interesting example in which the National Fisheries Institute, our organization, and Aaron's organization, WWF, have worked together on something called the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, which is a group of the global canned-tuna industry, got together and said the international cooperation and coordination needed to be improved so we're going to work together to do some science, to do advocacy at the international organizations, to do that work.
CONNELLYIt's been one of the most rewarding things I've done in my career. And it's a good example of how industry conservation community can actually lead some of these efforts.
REHMAaron McNevin, do you want to comment?
MCNEVINYeah, I think that it's a great example of how we've come together on some of these issues because there's a shared interest in solving the problems. I mean, fisherman want to have more fish to catch, we want to see more fish in the ocean and sustained in the ocean. I think it's a great example of coming together. And we've done the same thing for the past 10 years.
MCNEVINWe've been working with aquaculture producers from around the world, visiting sites in Madagascar, Southeast Asia and South America. We've done all of this with an effort to try to identify what are the key impacts and how do we solve these impacts.
REHMAll right. Ambassador Balton, I'd like to thank you for joining the conversation. Good luck on the summit.
BALTONThank you very much, Diane.
REHMAll right. And now we'll go to the phones, to Greg, in Houston, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.
GREGGood morning, Diane. Thank you…
GREG…for having me. And this is an incredibly important discussion.
GREGMy question goes to the issue of bi-catch in the fishing industry. My understanding is that the fishing industry worldwide is not managing well the issue of bi-catch, which is when fisherman go out, they tend to target a particular type of fish that they look to catch. And in the process they catch all kinds of other fish that they end up throwing back and destroying. And in some cases, even off the Gulf Coast here, off of Houston, as much as 90 percent of the catch ends up being bi-catch and ends up being destroyed.
GREGAnd my question is what's being done domestically, as well as worldwide, to reduce the amount of bi-catch and to reduce the environmental impact of fishing upon our oceans? Thank you.
RAUCHYes. Thank you. We take the directive -- we are under statutory directive to reduce and minimize bi-catch. Bi-catch, the caller is right. Some fisheries are very clean in that they go out and target one species and that's all that they catch. Other species (sic) go out and will catch more than that. Often times, they are able to sell or otherwise utilize the non-target catch. So it's not truly bi-catch, it's not wasted. But sometimes it is.
RAUCHIn the United States we've made a number of significant progresses in decreasing bi-catch. Over the course of time there have been some very wasteful fisheries that we've gotten down and improved, like the shrimp fishery off the Southeast has done wonders in terms of decreasing the amount of bi-catch, but there's still a lot of room to go. And the caller is certainly right, that nationally this issue of bi-catch is one that we're very concerned about in terms of other countries.
RAUCHEurope has just gone to what is technically a no bi-catch standard, in which they have prohibited -- they require that all their fishing vessels land all their catch. There are some exceptions to that, but that's…
RAUCH…a worldwide phenomenon that we're trying to deal with.
REHMAll right. And here's a question for you, Joel Bourne. "As you did your tour, farmed fish," and this is from Julie, "farmed fish used to have a reputation for disease, fungus and other problems. Is this regulated, especially overseas?"
BOURNEThat's a great question. And, of course, this is part of the legacy of aquaculture that sort of lingers today. People are not…
BOURNEThey're not trusting.
BOURNEEspecially of fish that are produced overseas where they, you know, they're not in -- terribly well inspected by U.S. people or it's voluntary inspection program, so we really don't know what we're getting. However, a lot of the programs that we looked at are really trying to minimize or eliminate the use of these types of nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals or antibiotics in the fishery.
BOURNEAnd it comes to -- it seems to me in the fish farmers that I've interviewed, density is really the issue. If you cram a lot of fish together, then they have much more chances of them suffering some sort of disease problem.
REHMBut isn't that what the manufacturer is hoping to do, produce more and more?
BOURNEExactly. It's a balance. It's a balance. So you're trying to provide a healthy environment for the fish, but also one that's not going to stress it. Because when fish get stressed, they get sick. So looking at several of the farming operations that we did, you know, a lot of the effort there was to try to reduce the amount of density they were doing. Now, in places like China and Vietnam, where you've got, you know, these are developing countries.
BOURNEMost of these fisherman are very poor. They're trying to make a living like everybody else. This is a profitable way for them to go. They want to produce as many fish as they can to make as much money as they can. So sometimes other nations are not quite as stringent as those in the United States are.
REHMAaron McNevin, you wanted to comment.
MCNEVINYeah, I mean, we've seen this over the years, of disease epidemics taking place. We've seen it in Ecuador, the massive crash of the shrimp farming industry. We've seen it in Chile with the massive crash of the salmon farming industry. And now we're seeing it in Southeast Asia with another crash of the shrimp industry, where some of the production numbers have gone down by 30 to 40 percent.
MCNEVINAnd I think that what's happening is, is that people are recognizing, yes, as Joel said, there's a great deal of stress that's being imparted on these species, but the idea of density -- and this is something that WWF has been working on, on the ground with our WWF Thai offices and Indonesia offices -- is that we see things like organic farming, where there's a specified density level, where you can only put this many fish or shrimp in the pod.
MCNEVINAnd now we're talking about coastal environment of say mango trees or wetlands -- what we have to do to produce that amount of fish to supply the U.S. market. So our estimates are that if we went all organic for all the shrimp that we consume in the U.S., you'd need 50 times more land than Thailand converted.
MCNEVINSo we need to think about doing more with less, indeed, but we need to keep our eyes on prize, as far as reducing impacts, key impacts, measurable impacts. And we've tried to do this by the heavy lifting and get an aquaculture stewardship council certification out there for the consumer, so they don't have to dive into all these issues.
CONNELLYSimilar to Aaron's comment, there's been a group called the Global Aquaculture Alliance that's been certifying farms and processing plants for about 15 years. And just in the last year they certified 493,000 metric tons, but since no one thinks in metric tons, that's about a billion pounds or four billion meals per year that they've been certifying to make sure that things are done well.
CONNELLYAnd global retailers are now engaged. So companies, you know, Disney in Florida, Wal-Mart in Arkansas, Delhaize in Belgium, to Woolworths in Australia, are all requiring this GAA certification to make sure that the farm fish that they get is operated or farmed in a process in a good manner.
REHMAll right. Let's go to South Bend, Ind. Hi, Fritz. You're on the air.
FRITZOh, hi. I'm concerned about getting healthy food for my family. And I didn't know about this P.I. certification. And wonder if that's something I can pull up on my computer. But I've been going to Monterey Bay Aquarium. They have a -- they call it Seafood Watch. And, in fact, stores like Whole Foods, they won't sell any fish that's not approved by the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch.
FRITZAnd they keep track of what fish are being overfished and which ones are going to extinct, which ones you should stay away from and so forth. And just, could -- is that an important website to go to or is there something better I can go to or…
BOURNEYeah, the Seafood Watch program has been around -- Monterey Bay Aquarium has been in that for about a decade now. And many people -- they're probably one of the better sites that consumers go to. And they have sort of a good, best alternative, worst choice scenario.
BOURNEAnd it's a good, very consumer-oriented thing. But also, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, that we just mentioned, that World Wildlife Fund has helped put together, is certifying, as is the industry, GAA. Retailers, as we mentioned, like Whole Foods, as well as Wal-Mart, are really focusing on buying sustainably caught and farmed seafood because they realize this is a very profitable product for them. Consumers want safe seafood and they want to help the farmers and fisherman produce it.
RAUCHYeah, I echo what Joel said. I would say that the information that Monterey Bay Aquarium bases their Seafood Watch on, a lot of that comes from NOAA fisheries and the science that we do here that feeds into that. We take all that science without the recommendations at the end.
RAUCHBut if you want to know whether your fish is in season right now or whether it's subject to over-fishing or not, you can look at the Department of Commerce's Fish Watch website and have all the information that the government provides to Seafood Watch directly. That comes out from us. And it also a consumer friendly place. And that's fishwatch.org.
REHMHere's another email. And this is in regard to shrimp. "Please tell us about the high levels of contamination in imported shrimp." John Connelly?
CONNELLYSure. FDA requires this HACCP program that I mentioned before, a risk-based approach to managing food safety. At the border it also inspects a certain percentage to make sure that the surveillance is done. It's kind of a final check. And the will occasionally find levels of filth or salmonella or unauthorized antibiotics in them. Immediately FDA puts that company on import alert, which means that that company exporting to the U.S. will have to be inspected for the next five shipments or until they get five clean shipments.
CONNELLYIf a country and a company don't act appropriately, FDA can take the next step and put the whole country on import alert. And for China they have a couple of species that every shipment coming into the U.S. is being tested.
REHMWell, that's good to know. We'll hope that that system is really working. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to, let's see, Ray, in Martinsville, Va. You're on the air.
RAYHi, Diane and panelists.
RAYOne of the panelists earlier referenced a CDC report about the health safety of some of the imported products. But I'm wondering if they have method in place to monitor the long-term buildup of some the toxins. Because we know a lot of toxins build up over time and don't cause disease until, say, 20 years down the road.
REHMTwenty years down the road, in terms of farmed fish, is that what you're talking about?
RAYIf there are toxins in the water that they're grown in, our bodies might accumulate these toxins over a period of time.
RAYAnd disease wouldn't be -- yeah.
REHMYeah, John Connelly?
CONNELLYSure. I think it's important to look at all of this, Diane, as a layered defense, if you want to use a military term. HACCP is one defense. The FDA inspection's another defense. But importantly, these groups like GAA, looking at certification, the retailers requiring looking at water quality, effluent, etcetera, because the retailer ultimately doesn't want their brand embarrassed by having fish that isn't wholesome and safe and healthy. So those are kind of a layered defense that include both industry working with conservation groups and working ultimately with government.
REHMAnd finally, I wonder, Joel, do you see farmed fish as the wave of the future?
BOURNEWell, I think we're going to need fish. As we move forward we're looking at 35 percent in increase in seafood demand over the next 10, 20 years.
REHMAnd that's all kinds of fish and seafood.
BOURNEGlobal, globally. All kinds. So we're going to need well-managed wild fisheries and we're going to need well-managed farm fisheries. And the lower you eat down the food chain, typically the easier it is on the environment and often on your health. So, you know, if you're looking at shellfish, even now we've got the first kelp farm in the United States.
BOURNEAnd you're looking at something that doesn't require any fertilizer, any food, you know, and basically helps clean up the environment to provide healthy vegetable. They've got the first one up in Maine. So we're going to see a lot more of this in the United States, I think, down the road. But certainly around the world. It's growing.
REHMSo do you think the U.S. is behind the 8 ball so far, and other countries farther ahead with farming?
BOURNEOh, absolutely. We -- South Asia is dominate…
REHMWe're catching up?
BOURNE90 percent of the fish farms are in Asia. The United States…
BOURNE…is still tiny in that regard.
CONNELLYAnd some of that, Joel, is due to just the geography and the climate. If you can get two crops per year in Southeast Asia for shrimp, you're more likely to do that. Whereas a catfish farmer, that Aaron mentioned, might have a year plus long process to bring a fish to market.
REHMAll right. Well, we'll keep watching as all of this keeps developing and have you back two years from now and see where we are. John Connelly, Samuel Rauch, Joel Bourne and Aaron McNevin, thank you all.
RAUCHThank you, Diane.
CONNELLYThank you, Diane.
MCNEVINThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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