To Hell In A Handbasket

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 15, 2008 12:58 pm

What does the Filet-O-Fish at McDonalds have in common with that imitation crabmeat in California rolls and the uh, ‘healthy‘ ingredient in beer-battered fish-n-chips?

filetofish-717687.jpgPollock: poster child of sustainable seafood.

Well the pollock fishery is now possibly on the brink of collapse. Managed through the distribution of transferable quotas, fishermen take over one million tons of pollock every year and it seems those critters can’t reproduce and recover as fast as they’re being harvested. Go figure.

Jennifer’s got more detail in her guest post at Grist:

This is why Dr. Jeremy Jackson at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, says the collapse of pollock would be “the ultimate example of the emperor having no clothes.”

Seriously folks, you don’t have to be a marine biologist to figure out this level of pressure on a species is probably going to have some serious repercussions.


Comments (11)

Links to this Post

  1. Here We Go Again | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | September 10, 2009
  1. I caught some pollock once. Now I feel bad.

    That was about 30 years ago … there would be a LOT of great great grand babies by now.

    But, more tot he point where I caught them was a place famous for Cod (like, but not the same as, Pollock) but 30 years ago you could not find Cod there (off Gloucester, 10 miles) because they were already fished out. The Pollock were what was left.

  2. Linda

    Here’s another expression that seems valid now,
    ” When it rains, it pours “.

  3. When we did this story about global fisheries policy just a couple of months ago, it sounded like the pollock were hanging in there. Sigh. I guess I’d better develop an appetite for jellyfish.

    Why does it always take total devastation for our species to alter its behavior?

  4. Why does it always take total devastation for our species to alter its behavior?

    We’re short-sighted with malleable tastes. The reason I worked on the sea cucumber fishery in the Gulf of Maine was because the large traditionally harvested species had disappeared and sea cucumbers were left which became an emerging market. These critters were being removed by tractor trailer loads every day.

    Fast forward a few years and fishermen would tell me anecdotally that they had to travel farther, steam time increased, and locating them was becoming more challenging.

    This story is repeated over and over globally. We must stop. It’s time rethink sustainability. Otherwise, as Karl points out, we’ll continue fishing down trophic levels and see a boom markets for jellyfish and algae.

    And our oceans will get mighty boring.

  5. I think we need a tax credit for fish, to encourage them to have larger families.

    That will work, right?

  6. Moopheus

    Fake crab is pollock? Who knew? Some years ago, I picked up the impression somewhere that fake shellfish was often skate; I guess that was wrong. Guess you really do learn something new every day.

    Personally, I’m not convinced there are sustainable solutions. I think we’re just fucked.

  7. sunnygrrlSB

    Fake scallops, made with skate “wings”, have been marketed as true scallops in the past. I was told you can tell the difference by looking at the striation in the muscle tissue (real scallops have rings, skate wings have lines).

  8. We will have to move to genetically-modified chicken (even turkey, which produces more weight per pound of food consumed) that can produce Omega-3 fatty acids to replace the loss of seafood in the diet. Traditional seafood-consuming societies will have to be made to realize the consequences of global fishery collapse and drastically cut consumption. The panda is the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund; the imperiled bluefin tuna should become the symbol of a new World SeaLife Fund. The centuries-long perception of the oceans as an inexhaustible resource must be overturned rapidly to order to facilitate change before even more drastic collapse and fishery loss occurs.

  9. synapse

    Off topic: I have a friend who loves imitation crab meat because she eats kosher and doesn’t eat real crab meat.

  10. Gregorio

    I think we humans are clever enough that we’ll always figure out a way to feed ourselves, through fish farms, bioengineering, etc. Food has an inelastic demand curve. Sadly, we’re not smart enough to engineer the functioning of the entire planet, so we’re going to squash every other animal that gets in our way.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


See More

Collapse bottom bar