Tuesday, June 3, 2008

One Fish, Two Fish, Unlucky Redfish

Check out this pretty little redfish, quilted by hand by the Ecology Action Centre’s own fisheries scientist, Jennifer Ford. Atlantic redfish, also known as ocean perch or rosefish, are members of the widely distributed Sebastes family, and closely related to the nearly 70 species of rockfish found off the Pacific coast. As you might expect, redfish are usually orange-red to scarlet in colour. They are a small fish, distinguished by their large cartoon-worthy eyes, a boney skull and jaw, and a fan of sharp, bony spines radiating around their gill cover.

“Ocean perch,” a popular market name for redfish, was invented by slippery seafood sellers in the 1930s. As freshwater yellow perch stocks declined, fishmongers responded by substituting with red fish fillets, which are similar in colour and could be sold twice as cheaply. Redfish is still a popular seafood choice in Midwestern US states, where most Canadian catches are sent, often after being frozen and filleted at sea.

Unluckily for the Sebastes family, all species are very slow-growing, late to mature, slow-moving, and easily caught. In the early days of the commercial fishery, redfish were caught by trawling along the seafloor during daylight hours. However, fishermen discovered that redfish move off the bottom at night to feed, and eventually switched to a midwater trawl, which is similar to a bottom trawl, except that it can be adjusted for use at different depths. More recently, combinations of bottom and midwater trawls have been used to allow fishermen to target redfish over a full 24 hour period.

Sadly, redfish populations around Atlantic Canada aren't doing so well these days. As the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has reported, landings are down, recruitment is low, and estimates of abundance are substantially down. More sustainable seafood alternatives caught or farmed in Nova Scotia include bottom hook and line caught haddock, trap-caught shrimp, harpooned swordfish, low-density farmed mussels and oysters, rod and reel tuna (except Bluefin), and the ubiquitous lobster.


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