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Originally published Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Op-ed: Sustainable fishing creates jobs

By introducing sustainability to mature industries like fishing, we can create jobs, writes guest columnist Kerry Coughlin.

Special to The Times

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THE health aspects of eating fish are widely known. Less recognized are its ties to the health of the American job market.

With the unemployment rate hovering just below 8 percent and signs of job growth modest at best, one sector with a promising employment outlook that doesn’t get much attention in the national conversation is the seafood industry. It should. The growing adoption of certified sustainable practices in the fishing industry has created an opportunity not only to protect the world’s seafood supply but also to create jobs.

In Seattle, we seek to patronize restaurants and grocery stores that offer sustainable seafood. That demand from diners ripples throughout the whole fishing industry.

Seafood is the largest-traded food commodity in the world and is critical to food security for more than 3 billion people. Globally, about half a billion people depend on the seafood trade for their livelihoods.

In the U.S., 1.2 million Americans work in jobs related to commercial fishing, according to the latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries of the United States 2010 report. That’s a 16 percent increase in jobs over the previous year.

The seafood industry is also achieving growth in revenue. The commercial U.S. catch was valued at $4.5 billion in 2010, an increase in value of more than $600 million over the previous year.

Fisheries today operate in a world market that is increasingly demanding Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, which again was determined to be the world’s leading sustainability endorsement in a 2012 independent study commissioned by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and conducted by Accenture: “Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Wild Seafood Sustainability Certification Remains Best In Class.”

Certification to the standard brings benefit to fisheries, such as access to new markets, price premiums, increased valuation, or other advantages. This market-based approach to preserving ocean resources, driven by the businesses of America, is helping to ensure long-term employment for more than a million Americans.

Consider Jack and Natalie Webster of the American Albacore Fishing Association (AAFA) in California, the state with the highest number of fishing-industry jobs — 120,583 by latest count. Since AAFA — a group of families with a long legacy of fishing — became the world’s first tuna fishery to be certified sustainable in 2007, they’ve established an impressive track record fishing one of the world’s most popular fish in a sustainable way: pole and line, one fish at a time.

The certification is helping secure their future.

“People want to eat sustainably and there’s been an increased interest in our fish,” Natalie Webster says. “Buyers from all over the U.S. and places in Europe are calling us wanting our products.”

The U.S. seafood industry has made great strides over the past decade in demonstrating its sustainability to the world. Today, approximately 50 percent of the total volume of commercial fishery landings in the United States is certified sustainable or is in assessment to the MSC standard. Certification has played an important part in keeping U.S. fisheries competitive in the global seafood marketplace.

The good news is that by doing what’s right to protect the world’s oceans, the seafood industry is protecting a vital source of jobs for generations to come.

Kerry Coughlin is regional director for the Americas Region at the Marine Stewardship Council office in Seattle.

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