by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Fish

Jun 19 2010

Alaska fishing politics: fish processing

I’m writing this while on an Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute press trip (see note at end).  We are at Sand Point, Popof Island, Shumagin Islands, Alaska, about halfway out the mainland part of the Aleutian archipelago.  Sand Point is the largest town around, population 800 to 1000.

The town has a grocery store, coffee shop, bar, cafe, and a Chinese restaurant (the Aleut China), but centers around a seafood processing plant run by Seattle-based Trident Seafoods.

The fish arrive at the plant from “tenders,” fishing boats that collect fish caught by other boats, weigh the fish, and store them in ice cold sea water until they reach the plant.

Workers at the plant eviscerate the fish, clean them, and cut them into clean fillets.  These will go to Costco and Sams’ Clubs (Walmart) in the lower 48.

Trimming Halibut, Trident plant, Sand Point, AK, 6-18-10

The men and women doing this work are mostly seasonal workers from the Philippines.  They work 12 to 16 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week.

Several people who have lived here all their lives told us that when they were kids, they could hardly wait until they were 16 so they could work in the cannery.  They made good money.

When Trident came in, the company lowered the wages to minimum or just above, discouraged locals from working there, and outsourced the labor.

The company also reduced the price it paid for fish  from just over $2 per pound in the late 1980s to today’s just over $1.

If I remember correctly, wild Alaskan salmon costs nearly $30 per pound in New York City grocery stores.

The fishermen aren’t getting much of that.  The people who work in the processing plant aren’t either.

We met people here who are trying to help the fishers get more money for their work.  We haven’t met anyone lobbying for higher wages for workers in the processing plant.

The rationale?  Fish come in seasonally when they can be caught.  They have to be processed as soon as they come in.  If the workers were paid more, the wild fish would be so expensive that nobody could afford to buy them (and everyone would turn to farmed salmon).

I will be thinking about all this the next time I’m in a Costco or read about recommendations in the dietary guidelines to eat more fish.

I needed five chapters to talk about issues related to fish in What to Eat. I will have more to say about Alaskan fish politics in the next two posts.  Stay tuned.

Note: the Alaskan Seafood Marketing Institute is a trade association paid for by seafood processors::

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) was created over twenty years ago as a cooperative partnership between the Alaska seafood industry and state government to advance the mutually beneficial goal of a stable seafood industry in Alaska. It is Alaska’s “official seafood marketing agency”, and is established under state law as a public corporation…[It] is divided into three distinct marketing programs: international, foodservice and retail. All three programs are designed to enhance the appeal and popularity of Alaska Seafood. The international program operates in the European Union, China, and Japan, while the retail and foodservice programs conduct their activities in the U.S.

Oct 23 2009

Fish news, mostly bad

It’s too little too late for fish policy, alas, but the EU is trying.  It is asking for comment on its Green Paper on Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.  If the Green Paper is too much to tackle, try the Citizens’ Summary.  It explains why it’s so important to urge the EU to make sustainability a priority in fish policies.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has a new report out on The State of Seafood.  Fisheries are at a turning point, it says, and we must act now, or goodbye fish.

And the Seafood Choices Alliance publishes a webletter, Afishionado.  Its latest issue deals with the effects of climate change on fish migration, invasive species, and ocean acidification.  The short articles come with references, which I always appreciate.

Many groups are doing excellent work to promote seafood sustainability.  Support what they do!

Aug 26 2009

Oh great. All U.S. fish are contaminated with mercury.

My book, What to Eat, has a chapter on the mercury-in-fish dilemma.   Do we follow dietary guidelines to eat more fish or do we worry about the amount of toxic methylmercury those fish might have?

The U.S. Geological Survey and Department of the Interior have just released a report that will not make this dilemma easier to resolve.     Fish in every one of 291 streams sampled throughout the country are contaminated with mercury.  According to the press release, the good (well, slightly better) news is that “only” a quarter of the samples exceeded federal guidelines for people eating average amounts of fish.

Where does the mercury come from?  “Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the United States — but 59 of the streams also were potentially affected by gold and mercury mining.”

The remedy seems pretty obvious: let’s insist that coal-burning power plants and mining operations clean up their emissions.   How about right now!

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Apr 24 2009

Pesticides in Chilean farmed salmon?

Among the many publications that flood my snail mailbox is the trade magazine, Pacific Fishing. I’m not sure why it gets sent to me but I do look at it since it covers a world I know little about.   The May issue has several articles about banned pesticides in Chilean farmed salmon.  I had completely missed this story, even though the New York Times discussed the problem on February 5.  That was the day the Pew Environmental Group revealed the results of its FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the FDA.  The otherwise undisclosed documents say farmed fish from Chile contains residues of pesticides banned by the FDA since 2007.

But Chile is not alone in using banned pesticides.  British Columbia salmon farmers use SLICE, a pesticide that kills sea lice.  Because such pesticides are toxic, it is not surprising that they also seem to be killing local prawns and other invertebrates along the Canadian West Coast.

A Pacific Fishing reporter, Don McManman, went to great pains to find out what the FDA was doing about all this.  His interview makes entertaining reading.  The FDA’s final answer?  Looking into it, apparently.

I’m wondering why the Pew Group had to file a FOIA request to get information that the FDA should be releasing to the public.  The lack of disclosure makes it appear that the FDA cares more about protecting the salmon farming industry than consumers, especially now that the public has the right to choose.  Seafood has Country-of-Origin labeling (COOL).  With COOL , you can see whether farmed salmon comes from Chile or British Columbia and decide for yourself whether you want to eat fish raised on pellets containing banned pesticides.

Want to check out the documents?  Go to the Pacific Fishing website, then Resources. Scroll down and look for “Insecticides–It’s What’s for Dinner,” “Chile Salmon Report,” and “Chilean Contamination History.”