Save the Bluefin Tuna--But Don't Forget Herring


Photo by Jacob Bøtter/Flickr CC

Yesterday, the day the Atlantic tuna commission voted at its Brazil meeting to reduce the eastern bluefin quota from 19,500 to 13,500 tons--a move the World Wildlife Fund, among many others including our own Barry Estabrook and the World Wildlife Foundation, considers completely inadequate to protect the fish--the Boston Globe published an op-ed about a similar fish-quote meeting today written by Peter Kaizer, a Nantucket fisherman (I guess there still are some) who fishes bluefin tuna.

If the WWF, Estabrook, and others have their way, Kaizer will have to find some means to make a living until at least 2019, the first time a sustainable bluefin fishery might come back if the bluefin fishery were closed for several years. I'll refrain from making a possibly callous remark about Nantucket being to real estate what bluefin are to commercial fish--that is scarce and overpriced--and applaud Kaizer for his concern over the fish today's meeting will discuss: herring, bluefin's main supply of food in the northeastern Atlantic. Herring, Kaizer writes, has been mismanaged and underprotected for decades by industrial trawlers that come far too close to shore:

Small boat fishermen like me have been sounding the alarm about the herring stock for years, especially on Nantucket Shoals, and trying to convince fisheries managers that the creation of an industrialized, midwater trawl herring fleet in our local waters was a big mistake.

He notes today's meeting of the New England Fisheries Management Council, which will call for new quotas, and hopes it will follow the recommendation of one independent group that has called for at least a 40 percent cut, a recommendation bolstered by another that warned that industrial trawlers are killing herring's central breeding stocks.

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I feel about herring the way I do about sardines: it's the fish we should be eating, rather than the predatory fish that feast on it--though I admit to a fairly extreme fondness for striped bass, another fish that devours herring. As with sardines and other fish low on the food chain, herring is richly flavored and meaty. It's also one of the things I most look forward to in visits to Russ and Daughters, in New York--though its supply of the herring I like best, fresh, comes from Holland and only in the late spring, as the great gourmand Jason Epstein wrote in this piece quoted on the store's Web site. Mark Federman, the store's owner, uses Canadian and Baltic herring, too; his is the herring that can make you a convert who cares about herring's future, and you can get it by mail order.

For several years, the striped bass fishery was closed, largely because of a PCB scare. It came back, and was worth the wait. I'd gladly forgo bluefin tuna for the decade until it could be made sustainable again, and would miss herring a lot more. Today's fisheries council meeting could take steps to keep striped bass and recovering bluefin well-supplied--and our tables too.