Few scientists know as much about seafood and sustainable fishing as Ray Hilborn, Ph.D.
Professor Hilborn is a world-famous fisheries researcher based at the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.
Two years ago, we described his collaboration with Boris Worm, Ph.D., who published a gloomy forecast of the sustainability of commercial fishing back in 2006.
Hilborn's opposing research was so compelling that Dr. Worm agreed to co-author a far more optimistic paper in 2009 … see “Sunnier Seafood Forecast Issued by Former Foes.”
Ray Hilborn, Ph.D.
They concluded that overfishing can be discouraged by restructuring incentives with programs like “catch-shares”.
This approach, which is used in Alaskan fisheries, financially motivates fishermen to avoid overfishing ... and see that others don't do it either.
Last summer, Dr. Hilborn told attendees at the 9th Annual Seafood Summit in Vancouver, B.C. – including us – about his research showing that seafood is a more sustainable source of protein, compared with meat and poultry … see “Seafood Summit Examines Sustainability Challenges”.
Hilborn's NYT essay sees steady trend to sustainabilty
Consumers got a clear picture of the overall state and direction of U.S. fisheries when The New York Times published an opinion essay by Hilborn last week, titled “Let Us Eat Fish”.
In it, he refutes widespread – but factually incorrect and overly gloomy – impressions of the status of commercial fisheries.
Dr. Hilborn notes that many American fisheries have rebounded since the mid-1990s, thanks largely to the 1976 Magnuson Act, which barred foreign fishing within 200 miles of the U.S. shoreline and created fishery management councils.
Alaska's constitutionally mandated fishery control practices have kept wild salmon stocks very healthy, and Dr. Hilborn praised management councils on the West Coast, where, as he says, “… fish stocks have been strongly revived over the past decade through conservative management ...”
He acknowledges many remaining challenges, including needed updates to the Magnuson Act, and the threatened state of some commercial species, such as bluefin tuna.
But he makes a key point about the downside to avoiding seafood because of scientifically groundless fears that overfishing is rampant:
“… if fish are off the menu, we will likely eat more beef, chicken and pork. And the environmental costs of producing more livestock are much higher than accepting fewer fish in the ocean: lost habitat, the need for ever more water, pesticides, fertilizer and antibiotics, chemical runoff and ‘dead zones' in the world's seas.”
Hilborn is concerned about overfishing, but he says that people think it is much more common than it is.
Instead, he believes the facts support frequent enjoyment of sustainably harvested seafood – a description that covers all Vital Choice offerings – as an environmentally superior source of protein.
As he says, “Suddenly, that tasty, healthful and environmentally friendly fish on the plate looks a lot more appetizing.”
  • Hilborn R. Let Us Eat Fish. The New York Times. April 14, 2011. Accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/opinion/15hilborn.html