Editor’s Desk: Is U.S. seafood sustainable?

Left to right: “Surf ‘n’ Turf” panelists Niaz Dorry, Karen Rivara, Paul Greenberg, Corey Hendricks and Olaf Jensen discuss the future of seafood. Photo by FERN

For our latest public event, FERN hosted a lively panel discussion in New York City highlighting the connection of land — both farm and residential — to the health of U.S. fisheries.

Although pollution from land sources remains an issue, the panelists brought up other pressures on the sustainability of wild fisheries, including finfish aquaculture, industry consolidation and climate change.

“None of the fishermen we work with are against putting limits on how much fish you catch,” said Niaz Dorry, coordinating director of the North Atlantic Marine Alliance, based in Gloucester, Massachusetts. “It’s the fact that since those limits have been put into place, the limits have become profit-making tools. They have commodified the right to fish.”

The Monday night panel, called “Surf ’n’ Turf: can our seafood survive Big Ag and climate change?” was moderated by author and FERN writer Paul Greenberg. It was sponsored by The 11th Hour Project, and more than 150 people turned out.

Overall, the “good news” was that much of the overfishing in the United States has been curtailed, leading to a rebound in many fisheries, said Dr. Olaf Jensen, an associate professor and fisheries scientist at Rutgers University.

Two of the panelists, Karen Rivara, a marine biologist and president of Aeros Cultured Oyster Company, Inc. on Long Island, and Corey Hendricks, who runs First Light Shellfish Farm, a project of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Cape Cod, explained the ecosystem benefits of shellfish aquaculture and the successes they’ve had in sustainably raising hundreds of thousands of oysters.

Although stocks of fish are now in decent shape, the U.S. still imports most of its seafood, with foreign sources accounting for 80 percent of all fish sold. Those foreign sources, the panelists said, are far more questionable in terms of overfishing, illegal fishing and bycatch.

Buying regional species in the U.S. from local producers, they said, will help address many sustainability concerns.

Check out the full write up of the event by Leah Douglas here, and we plan to host more of these kinds of discussions in the future in other cities.