Is a career in fishing still sustainable?

Adriene Hill Oct 25, 2010

Is a career in fishing still sustainable?

Adriene Hill Oct 25, 2010


JEREMY HOBSON: This week, we’re looking at jobs. Some categories are growing and some are dwindling. From the Marketplace sustainability desk Adriene Hill reports now on one industry that’s drying up.

ADRIENE HILL: On the loading dock of the San Pedro fish market in southern California, commercial fisherman Pete Ancich and sports-fisherman Greg Watson talk about the lack of a future for their industry.

GREG WATSON: Can’t get any apprentice any more. Nobody wants to do it. We’re a dying breed.

PETE ANCICH: We’re a dying breed.

Tony Vidovich is a an old timer. The retired fisherman sits out on the dock, watching the few boats that come in. I ask him how today’s fishing compares.

TONY VIDOVICH: It’s garbage. It’s nothing, really, nothing.

They all tell me there used to be tons of fish out here — a hardworking fisherman could make a good living. Now they say fuel costs are up and the catch is down. These days the government says fisherman make about $28,000 a year. Some make a lot less.

Greg Watson is converting his 1933 fishing boat into a reggae boat for tourists.

GREG WATSON: I enjoy fishing, it’s what I’ve done all my life. But you’ve got to be practical, it’s time for changes, you know?

He let his own son go, telling him it was time to find other work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the fishing industry will shrink 8 percent in the next eight years, as fish stocks fall, quotas kick in, and pesticides and fertilizers build up in the oceans.

Paul Greenberg is the author of “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.” I ask him if fishing is sustainable.

PAUL GREENBERG: Well it is and it has been for hundreds and hundreds of years. It’s really the ramp-up of industrial fishing that happened after the Second World War that has turned it into an unsustainable career.

He imagines a whole different world of fishing, where fisherman catch wild fish using hooks and lines and cut out wholesalers by selling directly to customers, the way small-scale farmers do in farmers markets. That could help solve over-fishing, but says Greenberg, there’s still the pollution problem.

GREENBERG: The pollution issues are much more systemic, much more deeply woven into the complicated economic fabric of the country.

He says it’s easier to regulate fisherman than it is to go after the pesticide and fertilizer industries.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

For more on the future of your career-or that job you’ve always dreamed about-go to our website. There we’ve got the handy tool we’re calling our Future-Jobs-O-Matic.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.