Fishing ups and downs

Invasive species and dwindling species

July 18, 2011

Earlier this month, the New York Times announced a sure-fire method for dealing with invasive species: eating them. If they’re edible, that is; the technique works well for such invasive plants as Japanese knotweed, but isn’t necessarily worth the trouble for, say, zebra mussels.

As Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in the Times, however, environmentalists, scientists, government agencies, and even chefs are getting together to tackle the problem of the spectacular lionfish, which is currently eating its way through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The fish, it turns out, is a pain to catch and fillet, but tastes great. Lionfish (and other invasive species) is now on Food & Water Watch’s Smart Seafood Guide.

On the other side of the fishing line, however, is a more familiar fishing tale: that of the overfished species. As Tom Philpott reported recently on Mother Jones, the tiny, obscure fish species known as the menhaden is currently being overfished for its omega-3 oils — and the fish’s disappearance is causing trouble in the Atlantic Ocean ecosystem.

A recent Gilt Taste article about the menhaden noted that the wee fish aren’t just bottom feeders that help purify the ocean, they’re a staple food for many fish and birds higher up the food chain. A single company, Omega Protein, holds a monopoly on fishing for menhaden — at least until the menhaden are all gone.

Philpott also paints the bigger picture:

Thus menhaden have what I call ecological leverage. That is, if you fish them into oblivion, you’re not just destroying a single species; you’re also threatening to unleash a cascading set of effects that could lead to full-on ecosystem collapse. Other examples of ecological leverage include coral reefs, which act as engines of oceanic biodiversity but are under attack from a variety of forces, and tropical rainforests, which teem with biodiversity, too, and also help stabilize global climate by trapping vast amounts of carbon. We mess with ecological leverage at our peril.
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1. by Caroline Cummins on Sep 30, 2011 at 9:30 PM PDT

Food & Wine magazine, the Forbes website, and Saveur magazine have also recently run articles about going invasivore, or eating invasive species.

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