Friday, November 5, 2010

Planning a Sustainable Fishery: The Redfish Symposium

Danvers, MA

Chris Glass of the Northeast Consortium welcomes Redfish Symposium participants

More than 50 fishermen, fish dealers, fisheries managers, scientists, international experts,  economists and social scientists gathered to discuss the risks, opportunities and challenges of developing a redfish fishery in the Gulf of Maine.  Redfish is a general term for fish, but in the Gulf of Maine, redfish means the Acadian Redfish, which is found in deep waters and can live nearly 60 years.
              Redfish were a commercially important fish in the 1940's and '50s when redfish were frozen and sold as 'Ocean Perch' in the midwestern U.S.  Interestingly, another important buyer during this era was the U.S. Government which bought redfish and used it, in part, to feed the military.  However, stocks declined and the fishery faded into the background.  Today, the redfish stocks have recovered and are now considered by scientists to have the potential for resumed fishing.  Few fishermen today target redfish, but those that do are able to catch this unique species without negatively impacting habitat or other fish stocks.  Regulators and scientists caution that because the species is long-lived and relatively slow to grow and mature, it's ability to recover from overfishing may be limited.   Acadian redfish stocks crashed as a result of heavy fishing pressure in the past and similar species have suffered similar crashes in other regions.  However, at this point, fishing pressure is far from a level that scientists believe will negatively affect redfish stocks.
            The group quickly identified finding a market for Acadian redfish as the main stumbling-block to developing the fishery.  The market available to fishermen today for redfish is limited.  But how to do this?  Educating the public and local chefs, exploring local direct marketing and the possibility of providing a relatively cheap source of healthy fish to the general population were options that were discussed.  Additional ideas included exploring the European market for sustainable redfish and the possibility that the government might be able to once again buy domestically produced fish to feed the military and schools. 
A broad range of perspectives were present at the Redfish Symposium
          If a redfish fishery is to develop in the Gulf of Maine, it will be shaped by the range of perspectives present at this meeting.  The redfish fishery is a chance for all of the involved parties with sometimes very different ideas, perspectives and interests, to discuss and plan for a truly sustainable fishery that helps preserve a fishing way of life and fish stocks.  Stay tuned for a published summary of the meeting!

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