Did you grow up eating Filet-O-Fish from McDonald’s?
Here’s something your parents probably didn’t tell you: McDonald’s Seattle-based fishing boats are endangering Native American tribes in Western Alaska, according to a revealing report by Slate. The fishing trawl boats are used to mass capture pollock, the fish that is commonly used for California sushi rolls and McDonald’s own Filet-O-Fish.
The issue lies within mass capturing fish. McDonald’s sustainability label is monitored by the Marine Stewardship Council, who review catching methods and the environmental impact fishing has on the earth.
While McDonald’s claims to sell sustainably captured fish, the fishermen are not able to exclusively capture pollock. When the fishermen bring in their harvest, fish other than pollock are accidentally captured inside the trap. Among those accidentally caught fish is halibut, which Native Americans in Western Alaska depend on for financial security.
Alaskan tribes such as the Yup’ik and Aleut rely on halibut as a source of food and profit. But with the dwindling halibut population, many natives are beginning to fear they’ll lose their jobs. Without a diverse market for employment, Alaskans need to find opportunities for jobs elsewhere. Options for these tribal members other than fishing include: a few government jobs, employment from the education system, or jobs with a handful of private employers.
Accidental halibut captures amount to less than one percent of fishing trawl boats’ hauls. But because of the massive size of each fishing haul, the PSC found that boats accidentally harvested 6.2 million pounds of halibut out of their billion-pound catch last year.
To put that in perspective, the pollock industry allows for fishing boats to capture up to 551,000 pounds of halibut annually. But this law is not strictly enforced. For years, the corporate trawls have been allowed to capture more than the allotted amount of halibut, resulting in little to no consequences.
The capture of halibut is illegal for the large fishing trawls. So when they capture halibut by accident, they occasionally try to throw the fish back into the ocean. Unfortunately, most of the fish that are placed back in the ocean don’t survive.
But what does this mean for the small Western Alaskan tribes?
According to Slate, a representative from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council stated that their goal is to “safeguard seafood supplies for all communities, including coastal communities that depend on fish for survival, for the future.” The representative continued, “Sustainable management is fundamental to ensuring more resilient livelihoods. By maintaining healthy fish stocks, the MSC is helping to protect jobs for the many who depend on the oceans for a living.” Yet they failed to discuss the issue regarding halibut.
It doesn’t look good for the fish or the Native Alaskans. Phillip Lestenkof, president of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, calls the situation in Alaska “grim,” stating “don’t ever believe this process is fair.”