december fishy-news

Clean up your stuff, the new whitefish, RFA changes its mind on the Fisheries Science Improvement Act…

We’ve entered what we are calling December, though the temperatures are still hovering in the upper 40s. The striped bass season is over and personally, I’m thankful for that since this has been one of my worst years. I won’t get into how many fish I didn’t catch, but I will say I didn’t lose another plug bag to the water or any other things this year. I’m actually trying to unload some gear I’ve acquired over the years here in my NYC rat’s nest and ended up giving my nephew the Shimano Sustain 5000 for Christmas that he can use to catch fluke and snappers. It should be a fun summer for him.

There are a couple news items worth reading this month. The first of which is an article in the NYTimes by Lisa Foderaro concerning the dangers to birds from discarded line and hooks. I’ve always heard this from older fishing figures growing up, with monofilament and plastic six-pack holders the biggest culprits back then. Mono and other line is still a big deal to wildlife and too many fishermen are too careless about letting their loose line fly around the spot or tossing it back into the water.

Bunches of line left on the shore — with or without a hook — can tie ducks, shorebirds and even turtles in knots, while other birds are injured after nibbling a bit of bait left on a hook and swallowing it. Lead sinkers, too, can poison birds that ingest them. Fishermen also cut lines that get snagged on trees, leaving hooks and lures to drift menacingly in the breeze. And some birds will even use fishing line as nesting material, which can ensnare their young.

The problem is not new — or limited to Prospect Park. Birders in other city and state parks report similar cases. The Ocean Conservancy in Washington points out that monofilament fishing line, which is made from an individual fiber of plastic, has been in use since World War II, and as the decades pass, it has accumulated in the water and on land. For a quarter-century, the conservancy has organized coastal cleanups throughout the world on a single day in September. Over that time, 1,340,114 pieces of discarded fishing line have been collected, according to the group.

“Plastics in general are the most persistent forms of marine debris,” said Nicholas Mallos, a conservation biologist with the conservancy. “Once monofilament line becomes loose in the marine environment, it poses a serious threat.”

It’s tough when you have a snag and have to break off, but we should all be conscious about keeping the spot clean and free from loose line and fish guts, and that’s all part of being a responsible human being. Too often we hear about spots getting closed because of litter and it comes down on all of us. It’s not infrequent to see people winding up other people’s loose line at the common fishing spots, but I still can’t understand why they have to. Lots of people will blame immigrants or whatever you want to call the guys keeping short fish and leaving their trash all over the beach (see Jamaica Bay in the spring—that place is a goddamn disgrace to all of us), but it reflects back on all of us as fishermen. The point of it is all of us should be responsible enough to, at the very least, clean up after ourselves.

Another interesting read is a look at the rise and shifts in sourcing of whitefish in the global diet. It’s also from the NYTimes and it’s by Paul Greenberg, the author of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. While the cod industry frets over the prospect of increased regulation in the face of what some fishermen are saying are population numbers unprecedented in the last decade, Greenberg says they shouldn’t even worry because cod, as a food staple, is on its way out, to be replaced by tilapia and Pangasius. These two fish are farmed much easier than their wild whitefish relatives. In the case of Pangasius (“a catfish-like creature” from Vietnam—I didn’t know what it was either), the fish can live in extreme close quarters without expensive aerating systems because, when the oxygen is depleted from the water, it just sticks its head through the surface and breathes air. Seems built for industry.

From the article: This irrepressible biological trait (combined with cheap Asian labor and lax environmental standards) has allowed Pangasius to undercut Italian rainbow trout farmers and Greek branzino farmers and has even presaged a re-entry into the American market with the mysterious new name “swai” — now the ninth most consumed fish in America.

What’s curious about both the tilapia and the Pangasius is that they surged in the Western market when the classic fish of the Western whitefish sandwich were encountering troubles. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, the world saw a series of wild whitefish collapses, most notably in the North Sea, the Grand Banks of Canada and the famed Georges Bank off Massachusetts. Today, tilapia and Pangasius often account for more than eight billion pounds of whitefish annually — somewhere between a third to a half of all whitefish production, depending on the vagaries of the wild catch.

So whither whitefish in this next weird century of ours? If I were to bet, I’d say the odds are with the warm-water Asian upstarts. Yes, America still harvests two billion to three billion pounds of Alaskan pollock every year (the keystone species in today’s Filet-O-Fish).

Lastly, the RFA vs. Pew Environmental Group row I mentioned in the last post has been resolved, for now anyway. The RFA has changed its position and is now backing the bill’s opponents, though I’m sure there’s no shortage of things for the RFA and Pew to fight about in the near future. From the RFA: “Species like haddock, cod, summer flounder, black sea bass, porgies, amberjack and even king mackerel, these have all been assessed within the past few years so none of them would qualify for statutory assistance under this particular legislation,” said Jim Hutchinson, managing director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA). “East Coast fishermen especially who’ve spearheaded efforts to reform Magnuson, making national headlines through rallies and organized protests, they’ve suddenly found themselves boxed out of the process by Beltway insiders masquerading as reformers.”

Check the last post for information on how to contact your Congressman concerning the FSIA.


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