As forage fish, herring occupy a pivotal ecosystem role within marine food webs, linking small plankton with larger consumers to feed higher-trophic-level species, such as predatory fish, whales, and seabirds. Herring also support global seafood value chains linking commercial fisheries and aquaculture. Herring value chains are diverse, from Pacific herring stocks fished for roe (eggs), spawn-on-kelp, and food and bait to Atlantic herring that is canned, pickled, smoked and fermented to be consumed as food. Herring thus serves as a critical species coupling natural and human systems via complex marine food webs and seafood value chains.
This International Research Roundtable focuses on the ethical challenges of herring food webs and value chains. Herring food webs connect diverse ecological species (e.g., euphausiids, copepods, finfish, whales, seals, and seabirds) with different functions within marine ecosystems. Similarly, herring value chains connect multiple social actors (e.g., producers, processors, middlemen, traders, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers) who may interact directly, at a local fish market, or indirectly, through global trade networks. Complex ethical dilemmas arise, both in how to manage herring fisheries to sustain ecological integrity, and along the seafood value chain, from production methods and end products to impacts on consumer identities and health. Such seafood ethics issues create plangent challenges for seafood policy, governance, and any normatively guided actions in the seafood sector.
This Roundtable will explore herring fisheries management in relation to ecological integrity and societal welfare, with an aim to identify policies and governance structures that are both sustainable and ethically justified. Understanding the relationship between marine resource sustainability and seafood ethics is critical to navigating issues at the science-society interface. This is urgently needed to address emerging global seafood security issues, particularly as resource access, allocation, and trade regulations can precipitate food insecurity, ecological degradation, and conflict. We will employ multidisciplinary decision-support tools, such as Rapfish, the Ethical Matrix, and an innovative values-based approach, to assess herring sustainability and seafood ethics. Engaging scholars from the natural and social sciences, civil society representatives, First Nations leaders, policymakers, and artists, we will consolidate knowledge of herring fisheries and analyze values inherent in decision-making processes. Our goal in this Roundtable is to develop policy recommendations for herring management and governance and write a synthesis paper that addresses the ethical dilemmas that ensue from herring's provisioning role for both humans and ecosystems.
This initiative pursues timely and salient global and local research objectives:
- In 2012, the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force recommended cutting catch rates in half in many ecosystems and doubling the minimum biomass of forage fish that must be left in the water, compared to conventional fisheries management targets. This Roundtable will scrutinize these Lenfest findings in the context of herring fisheries case studies and develop updated recommendations designed to promote both sustainable and just fisheries.
- In 2015, the Haida First Nation won an injunction in the Federal Court of Canada to keep the commercial Pacific herring fishery closed in Haida Gwaii, overturning the Minister of Fisheries decision to re-open it. The judge found in favour of the Haida because of the potential for irreparable harm to the herring and the Haida. Last December, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, under new leadership, announced that there would be no 2016 commercial herring fishery in Haida Gwaii waters. This Roundtable will analyze this local herring conflict.
- Society needs seafood policies and governance that use aquatic resources to promote ecological sustainability and human wellbeing. Consumers face ethical purchasing decisions everyday, such as whether to buy local, organic, or fair trade food, which depend on multiple factors specific to their values and interactions within global value chains. This Roundtable will facilitate the development of synoptic evaluation frameworks and decision-support tools that can give reliable and transparent assessments of seafood ethics and sustainability.