Monday, February 23, 2009

Write to Whole Foods and ask about Cod

On menu's all over town you see Chatham day boat caught Cod, then I see an article in the New York Times from April that says that Cod is no longer something day boats can catch as the fish are to far out to sea to go out and come back in the same day. This is due to the sever depletion of Cod from over fishing. In a previous posting I referred to Cod as an endangered species, which I then clarified after more research to just Atlantic Cod as being endangered and that Pacific caught was still fine.

So what got me started on this again? Well Whole Foods, where I spend far to much time, has had bucket loads of Cod on sale in the last weeks, I see Cod on every menu and it still seems to be the preferred fish for Fish n' Chips. It seems like I have some sort of weird obsession with Cod, but really all I want is a straight answer.

Google offers a lot of vague or out of date info if you search for "Cod endangered species". Seems the Canadian government has been putting Cod on and taking it off and then putting it back on again for a long while. I went to the Canadian department of fisheries website, but there was nothing on it or the related sites that I could find that would definitely tell me what I wanted to know, is Cod actually an endangered species? Can we, should we be eating it with the gay abandon that we seem to?
Further exploration of the Canadian Fisheries site was very interesting to me, here is an excerpt:

Socioeconomic Considerations to Inform a Decision whether or not to list two Populations of Atlantic Cod under SARA

1.1 Importance of the Atlantic Cod Fishery

The commercial fishery of Eastern Canada comprises over 1,300 coastal communities, 43,000 licensed fishers and 35,000 processing plant workers all of whom rely on fishing (all species) to varying degrees. Many communities depend on the fishery as their only source of economic activity.

Historically, Atlantic cod was an extremely important component of the fishery in the Atlantic provinces and Québec. However, in the early 1990’s it became clear that groundfish populations were in distress. Many stocks were closed to fishing in 1992/93. Cod management through the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s focused on the recovery of a collapsed fishery. Moratoria on directed fishing of many cod stocks prevail to this day, throughout much of Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Through government assistance and policy changes to respond to the reduced fishery, 40% of groundfish licences have been removed. Cod now represents 2% of the value of the Atlantic fishery (including Quebec), down from 26% in 1990.

Despite the fact that shellfish have dominated the Atlantic fishing industry in terms of value and effort since the collapse of most groundfish species in the 1990s, cod still holds a place of pre-eminence among those who rely on the fishery for their livelihood, as the species upon which the Atlantic fishery was built. The cod fishery is at the core of the cultural roots of many coastal rural communities in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Consequently, any decision that is made with respect to the management of Atlantic cod will likely generate intense reactions. This was certainly evidenced in 2003 when the directed cod fisheries in 4RS3Pn and 2J3KL were closed. These closures resulted in forceful and extended public backlash including that from industry and provinces. The public consultations that were held regarding COSEWIC’s status report and designations for the Atlantic cod populations resulted in a similarly intense reaction from thousands of industry stakeholders.

Aboriginal fishery

In the Newfoundland and Labrador Region the number of communal commercial licences, that may include cod, issued or available to Aboriginal groups is fifteen. On the Island of Newfoundland, the Miawpukek First Nation (Conne River Band), adjacent to NAFO Division 3Ps, holds six licences and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI) has three. In Labrador, the Labrador Metis Nation (LMN) has one, the Labrador Inuit Association (Nunatsiavut Government) holds four, and the Innu Nation has one licence reserved for it, which has yet to be issued.

Four First Nations in the Gaspé region of Quebec have commercial groundfish licences that may include cod. In addition, 7 Aboriginal communities on the North Shore of Quebec hold a total of 7 Groundfish licences that were acquired through the Aboriginal Fishing Strategy. These North Shore communities also have access to a total allocation of 79 tonnes of cod for food, social and ceremonial purposes.

What this says to me is politics reigns supreme. The conversation is not, and I suppose cannot simply be: have we over fished and should we stop it by putting Cod (or whatever the fish in question might be) on an endangered species list?

The minute you do that the ramifications are swift, loud and plentiful.

So what do you do? I can see how in this country the right wing nuts will say things like "Cod is more important to these enviro-crazies then people's jobs!" Remember under Clinton the Spotted Owl debacle? Seems some people only see things in black or white, you can have spotted Owls or people, but apparently not both and so goes the story with Cod.

The bottom line, for me, to all this is that we can not wait for the government of any country to regulate a commodity like endangered fish, or genetically modified corn or soy or whatever when the consideration is not about what is right, what is best for the planet, what is the best for us people living on this planet, it's about how much money there is to be made. I know hardly a revelation.

Fishermen and their families who have lived off the sea for generations, where fishing is the main stay of their lives, what are they going to do when they can not longer fish? What are their options? How are they going to live and provide for their families? It's not so easy, you can't just stop, there has to be an alternative for these people. Fish farms are being put in place in some places, in others tourism, but it still isn't enough.

It seems to me, we are all living, right now, in a "now what?" time in history. A time when so many things that have sustained us for so long are no longer sustainable. Now what? What do we do? What can we do? How do we survive? If we left the Cod alone for a decade they might come back, if we don't spoil the oceans too much and make them so acidic or polluted the Cod die of something else other then for our dinner plates.

I wish I had some answers, this is why I'm writing this, to look at how something as simple and easy as buying a pound of Cod for dinner at your local Whole Foods isn't what you might think and even a responsible purveyor like Whole Foods is not always telling you the entire story.

Below is a seafood chart from the non-profit group Environmental Defense they don't say Cod is an endangered species, but what they do say is that it is an eco-worst choice. At the end of the day "food activism" is all about personal choice, we all have the power to make change happen by making informed choices when we go to the market or grocery store. We can choose not to buy Cod, to write to Whole Foods and ask them nicely what their justification is in selling Atlantic Cod? I'm actually interested to know, I'm crazy like that, so I wrote them today! But that doesn't mean you shouldn't, I wrote to my closest store the Bowery so write to the one closest to you. Or not, I'll report back.

I love Whole Foods and spend far too much money there every week, but I do feel they need to be held accountable for what they sell and misleading the public about the sustainability of Cod is not in any ones benefit and certainly isn't helping us to create a healthier more sustainable aquaculture for the future.

Eco-Worst Choice

Avoid or eat infrequently until improvements are made

Eco-Worst choices have one or more serious environmental problems, such as overfished populations, poor management, high bycatch, extensive habitat damage; or come from farms that allow widespread pollution, the spread of disease, chemical use and escaped fish.

We work with many of these fisheries to help them become more sustainable and keep fishermen on the water. As fisheries improve, they are moved up the list.

Many fish on this list have elevated levels of environmental contaminants – such as mercury or PCBs – and should be eaten in moderation, if at all.

Caviar, paddlefish (wild)
Caviar, wild (imported)
Health AlertChilean sea bass
Cod, Atlantic
Crab, king (imported)
Crawfish (China)
Eels, freshwater
Flounder/Sole (Atlantic)
Health AlertGrouper
Haddock (trawl)
Hake, white
Halibut, Atlantic
Lobster, Caribbean spiny
Mahimahi (imported longline)
Health AlertOrange roughy
Paddlefish, wild
Pompano, Florida
Health AlertRockfish (trawl)
Health AlertSalmon, farmed/Atlantic
Sea urchin (Maine)
Health AlertShark
Shrimp/prawns (imported)
Snapper (imported)
Snapper, red
Snapper, silk
Snapper, vermilion
Health AlertSturgeon, Atlantic
Health AlertSturgeon, wild (imported)
Health AlertSwordfish (imported)
Tilapia (Asia)
Health AlertTilefish (Gulf of Mexico/South Atlantic)
Tuna, albacore (imported longline)
Tuna, bigeye/yellowfin (imported longline)
Health AlertTuna, bluefin

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