Overfishing, a Word Often Deliberately Misused

What Does ‘Overfishing’ Really Mean?

Pif says: Local Media are again using the term ‘overfishing’ to describe the state of West Coast fishery resources. What does the term mean? Generally speaking, this is a political term is used to blame American commercial fishermen for any perceived lack of fish or perceived too great a harvest.

The truth of the matter is that American fisheries are strictly regulated by fisheries managers who set harvest quotas. When these quotas are reached, the fishery in question is shut down. If ‘overfishing’ occurs – too many fish are caught – then it is these managers who should be blamed, not the fishermen!

These fishery managers are faceless bureaucrats in some office somewhere, not the guy catching the fish. They sit on various official panels and make their decisions. When their decision on a quota is too high and too many fish are caught, blame falls on the fishermen for ‘overfishing’. When the quota is too low, then the officials blame the fishermen for the present scarcity and for ‘overfishing’ in previous years.

One fisheries biologist, claims that the large (media speak is ‘glut’) albacore tuna catch is a symptom of the decline of the fishery. Not so! The processors simply over-bought Asian fish and had no more room left for the minuscule American catch. So the American tuna boats sat at the docks, and the TV media called it a glut since the boats had no where to unload.

Now, a biologist has apparently proposed setting individual, personal, group or community quotas! What a laugh!

So if the quota is too high or too low under his proposed ‘new’ system, guess who will make the decision? Guess who will take the blame? Not the biologist, not the decision makers.

In fact a good case can be made that as a result of this season’s (1995) albacore harvest there will be more albacore, not less. Since the boats only got to make one trip, not the usual two or more, fewer fish were caught than would have been, had the processors bought as they had in the past.

If this should be the case, will the media tell any one? Probably not. And so the public will once again be left with the impression that commercial fishermen are a greedy, rapacious bunch that need to be curtailed and further regulated.

One of the biggest problems the tuna fishermen faced was that the public would not buy their fresh tuna, because the public was under the impression that tuna fish only comes in cans, and that there must be something wrong with the fish since it was not in a can.

This illustrates another problem: more and more Americans are becoming increasingly out of touch with the process of harvesting food, many believing that food is only found in the supermarket, and if it is not in a supermarket, it is somehow tainted and unfit to eat.

Has anyone mentioned the enormous South East Alaska Chum Salmon harvest? The Neets Bay harvest recovery seiner alone caught Seventeen Million (17,000,000)! What happened to most of them? Egged, ground and dumped. Why? Because processors had no room to store the meat, and because there was no way to sell it for a profit. The only profit comes from the sale of the eggs to Japan.

I’m sure the processors would love to sell the meat if they could, but the truth is they cannot. Their losses would be huge.

The problems lie in storage, transportation, distribution and marketing. Quality is also an issue, but over-coming the other issues must be done first.

So if you are an enterprising sort, with a lot of bucks, and filled with idealism which urges you to help feed the hungry of the world, step up and find a way to get these salmon to market! Plan now, because there will likely be even more next year.

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