On The Line is a NOAA Fisheries podcast about marine fish and wildlife and their ocean habitats, with stories from people who study, manage and protect these valuable resources on behalf of the American public. Each podcast comes with photos and a short web feature story.
Today on “On the Line” we're here with Laurel Bryant. Laurel is the Chief of External Affairs with the NOAA Fisheries' Office of Communications. She's served in this position since 2011, and has been with NOAA Fisheries for nearly 26 years. She’s developed some of the key stakeholder communication tools for the agency, including the agency's weekly electronic newsletter, FishNews, and the FishWatch program--an online tool about the sustainability of U.S. produced seafood.
Laurel’s retiring at the end of this year, and today we’re here to talk about her work at NOAA, the changes that she’s seen to fisheries management in that time, and why she’s so passionate about sustainable seafood.
Kent: Thanks for being here Laurel, and I'll start with a question about the Magnuson Stevens Act... we recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson Stevens Act, which was a big milestone, can you tell us, what is the legacy of the Magnuson Stevens Act and why is it still so important to us today?
Laurel: I think you can only appreciate where you are if you can kind of look back and see how far we’ve come. And looking back at the Magnuson Stevens Act which was a pivotal and visionary natural resource law. Putting together the Magnuson Stevens Act where you have regional management bodies that are comprised of local users of that resource and state managers and scientists and setting up a science based fisheries management process. That didn’t come with instructions. That took a while to do. And while you’re setting that up and learning what that looks like and how it’s going to function and operate you also had a lot of fishing that was going on and overfishing on fisheries that were already overfished. Wel,l then you flash forward to 2016 where we had 43 stocks rebuilt. We were actively preventing and addressing overfishing in a pretty smooth operation.
Kent: Can you remind our listeners, from a seafood perspective, what are some of the benefits that have come to consumers of seafood from the Magnuson Stevens Act?
I think probably the number one is that sustainable seafood … it’s not something that you just achieve. It requires constant work, constant monitoring. It’s an ongoing journey, particularly when you’re dealing with wild capture fisheries in the dynamic ocean and a changing environment. There’s an awful lot of other environmental benefits that come from good fisheries management and getting consumers to understand that and appreciate it and really reward our fishermen at the marketplace is an important aspect of U.S. seafood.
We are a global leader in sustainable fisheries management.
Kent: You talk about the importance of exporting our fisheries management approaches.. can you tell us why that’s so important.
Laurel: One of our number one fisheries exports are our stewardship practices. We know what we’re doing now, and I think what the Magnuson Act has done is also not only allowed us to have strong fisheries and the jobs associated with that … we really have something that now we need to be exporting to other fisheries around the world; exporting those stewardship practices and advancements.
Kent: So how is the U.S. getting the word out regarding the success of our fisheries management practices?
Laurel: We’re involved in a lot of regional fishery management organizations. Much of what they do, how they do it that we’re pushing for really our own stewardship practices and getting them to adopt it. And you look at our own fishery management plans, they’re all premised on the same thing; its science based, you’re monitoring, you’re responding and you’re enforcing. And that’s kind of the magic three.
Kent: So, for those of us who are seafood lovers but we’re not necessarily fishermen or part of the fishing industry, what can we do to promote sustainable seafood options in the United States?
Laurel: Buy U.S. If it’s fished or farmed in the U.S., you are absolutely supporting the standards of responsible fishing and harvesting. And you should not hesitate. We need to support them more and we actually need to start growing more of our own seafood.
Kent: And is that as easy as it sounds … buying U.S., knowing the source of a given product?
Laurel: You have to ask, you have to look at the label and you need to ask at the counter. And that doesn’t mean that if it’s not U.S. you shouldn’t eat it or purchase it. But become and informed consumer. See what country it came from. What are the standards it followed? Or feel free to ask your fishmonger behind the counter. More and more I think our seafood retailers and industry they are becoming more informed. They are taking the time to understand their sourcing processes and standards. It’s not perfect yet. We’re all in this together. But if you want to be an informed consumer take the time to ask.
Kent: And as far as challenges for US fisheries—both wild and farmed—what are some of the biggest challenges that we’re facing right now?
Laurel: Right now we are rapidly rebuilding our fisheries. And a lot of those fisheries lost their marketplace. So, the agency is working right now to understand what our role is in being able to assist and help getting those now underutilized, now rebuilt species back into the marketplace and onto the dinner plate as well as working with the potential of being able to permit fish farms and what those species are … working to scientifically support those efforts.
Kent: For a moment, staying on the topic of challenges, can you tell us where we stand as a country as far as moving forward toward having a more sustainable seafood industry?
Laure: The U.S. is perfectly poised to lead that way and grow our own food and be able to influence other practices around the world.
Kent: As far as fisheries management goes, can you tell us what the U.S. needs to do next?
Laurel: I think our challenge in this country moving forward and part of NOAA Fisheries focus moving forward is not only to continue supporting and building on our success in wild capture fisheries but really start trying to build toward our own domestic aquaculture industry.
Kent: Can you help explain to our listeners why aquaculture is necessary to help supplement sustainable seafood in the U.S.?
Laurel: So, when you look at wild capture and you’re doing it sustainably we pretty much are pulling out what we can, But not nearly enough to meet the demand. We know the demand is continuing to grow and it will. And we eat an awful lot of seafood in this country but much of it is imported and much of it is very limited to just a few species. We have laws and environmental laws that keep our water clean and we’re monitoring it. And we enforce those laws. We need to start growing our own seafood here at home.
Kent: Why are you so passionate about sustainable seafood in the first place?
Laurel: I love seafood. I come from Seattle, Washington. One of the things that really attracted me and kept me at NOAA Fisheries /has been the challenge that wild capture fisheries bring. You’re not really managing the fish. You’re managing the human behavior. And how do you do that in a way that is embraced? That it is valued and that you really are building that stewardship ethic. That’s why I’m so passionate about it.
Kent: So, Laurel, we hear that you’re quite a chef in your own right and I have a favor I’d like to ask… Would you be willing to share with us your favorite seafood recipe?
Laurel: Oh, my goodness. My absolute favorite is so simple. I’m from the northwest so salmon is in my blood. And my absolute favorite is the easiest in the world and it is cedar plank grilled salmon with just a little bit of seasoning on top. And I like mine medium rare and fatty. [laughs]
Kent: That sounds great. So in the 25 years you’ve been with NOAA Fisheries how have you seen the public opinion on seafood change during that time?
Laurel: I think people are embracing seafood from a position of nutrition and health. I’d love to see everybody eating seafood at least 2 to 3 times a week.
Kent: I was looking for information on sustainable seafood and I found NOAA’s Fish Watch website. I understand that you helped launch that, can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Laurel: One of the things that NOAA Fisheries has done in recent years in its journey into this conversation about seafood is establish a database called FishWatch. And breaks it down into easily understood information on the status of the stock, bycatch, habitat impacts. It even provides nutritional profile and some recipes. But the purpose of it is really to break down in understandable terms what sustainable seafood is.
Kent: You mentioned that retailers are an important part of the seafood equation. Can you tell us a little bit more about what they can do?
Laurel: I would love to see retailers point their consumers to Fish Watch and help us educate consumers. NOAA Fisheries increasingly is working with a variety of partners that are very much involved in the importance of seafood in a good nutritional diet. And that’s a big thing: eat more fish.
You've been listening to NOAA Fisheries’ podcast “On the Line.” I’m Kent Wagner. Join us again next time for more stories about ocean life and ocean science. For more information visit NOAA Fisheries at www.fisheries.noaa.gov. “On the Line” is a production of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Communications. Thanks for listening.