26 April 2012
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Sustainable Management of Oceans and Fisheries

 


A fisherman’s tale about Italian immigrants who decades ago harvested beaches “paved with fish” along the now fish-depleted United States north-east coast underlined a stark warning sounded at a Headquarters press conference today by an expert panel on the sustainable management of oceans and fisheries.


By the time Ray Menell, a local fisherman, had grown up, he said he, his parents and now his children could no longer catch whiting or ling, species that once “flooded” the beaches along the New Jersey shore.


“It’s because of over-fishing,” explained Mr. Menell, who now lobbies for legislation to protect and conserve fish stocks.  “Over the last 100 years, it’s been destructive to these species.  The whiting are at 10 per cent of their stock and you can’t catch a whiting over four pounds anywhere.”


Because of Mr. Menell’s story and others like it, Carrie Brownstein, Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator at the grocery store chain, Whole Foods Market, was well-aware as a retailer what over-fishing meant for sustainable development.  “Whole Foods Market is a values-driven company,” she said.  “One of our core values is to take care of our environment.”


So, as of Earth Day 2012, the company committed to refraining from wild-caught seafood, flagged as harmful by its partner organizations, advocacy group Blue Ocean Institute and California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium.  The stores’ seafood departments now show a colour-coded sustainability status to enable consumers to make more informed choices.


Short-term commitments were only foreshadowing a long-term plan to move the entire seafood industry towards greater sustainability by providing other companies with an example to follow, she said.


Companies like Whole Foods Market were indeed taking the right steps, said Andrew Hudson, head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Water and Governance Programme and coordinator of UN Oceans.


Fisheries were a major part of the global economy and a major source of jobs, and fish were also a principal part of the global environment, which had to be cared for, he said.  Challenges included heavily depleted or exploited stocks.


To change that, he said scale-ups were needed to add to the bold efforts taken by companies, such as Whole Foods Market, by consumers who were making sustainable choices, and by the United Nations, which established frameworks, such as straddling stocks agreements.  Fishermen, non-governmental organizations and Governments also needed to play a part, as did scientists.


Mark Kurlansky, best-selling author of the non-fiction books Cod, Salt, and A World Without Fish, applauded Whole Foods Market for its efforts, as the front line of the fishing issue was the marketplace.  Consumers wanted to make good choices, he said.  He urged all fish stores to follow its lead.


“It’s what consumers want,” he said.  “We still have time to get this right.  We still have time.”


Asked if the United Nations had done enough to protect fisheries in developing countries, Mr. Hudson said countries would have to agree to that.


Asked how much the oil industry affected fishing, he said acidification and over-fishing were greater threats.  The United Nations was seeking to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to better manage their fisheries, he added.


Mr. Kurlansky said international fisheries were the biggest problem, with a free-for-all attitude towards fishing.


When a reporter asked Mr. Menell where the fish rolled up on the beaches, he said that occurred around Sandy Hook and Manasquan River surrounding areas and Long Island.


Responding to a question about current regulation of large fishing operations that dragged the water with nets, Mr. Hudson said regulation existed, but more was needed.  The problem was not what the “bottom draggers” scooped up from the ocean, but the damage they did in the process.


He said Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) studies had shown that if steps were taken to reduce the intense pressure on over-fished stocks, the supply of wild-caught fish would also be reduced.  In the long run, recovery would occur.


Answering a question about sales, Ms. Brownstein said figures were increasing for certified fish.  Customers were very excited about the company’s new initiative.  Asked about sharp criticism from New England fishermen, she said the company still sourced fish from that East Coast area.


Further asked about allegations that the Whole Food Market was announcing its new policy as a marketing ploy, she replied, “it’s using the market to create change.”


* *** *


For information media • not an official record