Fried snapper. It is in itself delicious. But imagine it surrounded by some maduro, salad and potatoes, and it becomes irresistible, right ?. That’s right, as long as it is a snapper and not a parguito, a baby snapper.
The problem goes beyond receiving a plate with a small fish and being left with a craving. When our fishermen extract product from our seas (ie, fish) they must be sure they are respecting certain measures. These measures are known as Minimum Landing Sizes, which means the minimum size a fish must be before it can be sold.
These sizes depend not only on the species, but also on the place. Each country determines its minimum landing sizes within the boundaries of its Exclusive Economic Zone.
Minimum sizes… Why?
In short, because most commercial fisheries are collapsing. They are overexploited. We’re not giving the ocean time to replenish what we are taking out of it.
By modifying fishing gear to avoid catching juveniles and discourage consumption of fish below the permitted measure, the goal is to ensure that they reach an age at which they may reproduce and the biomass or population of that species can recover.
For example, in our country, if the fried snapper you ordered is a spotted snapper, it should measure at least 34 centimeters. That would mean that the fish reached its first maturity, at 18 months, and had a chance to reproduce before it becomes your meal.
And so everyone wins: the fishermen continue to fish, restaurants can continue offering fried snapper and of course, you may go on squeezing lemon over a favorite of our kitchen.
What do I do?
A major challenge is that even if we knew the minimum landing sizes of our favorite fish, we can’t always check it. In the case of the fried snapper you could, because it comes whole in the dish. But consumers do not normally get to see the entire specimen, but buy it already processed (sliced, for example).
We are partly dependent on the confidence we have in those who fish, or who process it, or who buy fish (fish markets), or who oversee fishing activities in our waters. Between the snapper that is swimming right now and the restaurant that will serve it to you, there are many steps in which landing sizes can be overlooked.
INCOPESCA developed this conservation tool in our country, determining minimum landing sizes of various species of commercial interest. Now what is needed is to implement that tool: coaching authorities, training buyers and fishermen.
Meanwhile, the least you can do is not to consume products that, regardless of their size, are banned: aguja, pajarito or ballyhoo, langostino o chicharra, lobster from the caribbean, piangua, uncertified turtle eggs, for instance.