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Not all bottom trawls are created equal, just as no one fishing method is universally sustainable. When considering the sustainability of a fishery we adhere to three main considerations:
1) How is the fish stock itself doing and are there enough fish to sustain a harvest?
2) Does the fishing method harm other sea creatures, the wrong size or age of the intended species, or the surrounding marine environment?
3) Is there effective government oversight to hold fishermen accountable to the laws in place?
In the case of the west coast bottom trawl fisheries, we feel they pass the test on all 3 points. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program rates bottom-trawl caught rockfish, petrale sole, dover sole and other groundfish species as either "Best Choice" or "Good Alternative". The Marine Stewardship Council awarded west coast groundfish species with a sustainability certification back in 2014. The Environmental Defense Fund wrote about the significance of this achievement here.
Dragging a fishing net through the water column or along the seafloor can be unsustainable if done so irresponsibly. But done so with proper management and careful placement, trawling can be very sustainable.
Consider what would happen if you moved all the cars and trucks on the road right now off-road. It would be chaos - all those tires would rip up grass and dirt that was not built for that kind of exposure. But if you left the cars on the asphalt roads they were meant for, the impacts would be absorbed as they are everyday on American roadways. The same can be said for bottom trawls. Trawlers on the west coast only drag their nets over sandy, high wave-action seafloor habitats that are used to seafloor movement and upheaval, and are able to withstand this kind of fishing effort. If you drag a net through a coral reef then of course there will be negative impacts, but the laws for west coast bottom trawl vessels strictly prohibit fishing in such areas. In addition, every bottom trawl vessel must have a federal observer on board for every trip to make sure all fishing laws are followed.
Some seafood companies have chosen to abandon west coast bottom trawl fisheries for sustainability reasons, opting to only sell hook and line landings. We love hook and line fisheries too, but they simply cannot feed everyone. Hook and line fish is also expensive and we believe access to affordable, sustainable, healthy, local seafood should be available to all.
Seafood sustainability is complicated, and it is a moving target. We are always considering the best, most recent, available science when considering our sourcing sustainability standards. Other companies decide to make a hard-line stance and never change. We think that's a mistake. We will happily discuss our dynamic sustainability standards with you anytime, in fact we welcome it! Can your other seafood purveyor say the same?