Swordfish harpoon fishermen earn priceless publicity

Published on July 26, 2011


by Kathy Johnson


Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainable fisheries certification is making positive waves internationally for the Nova Scotia harpoon swordfish fishery.

“When you have someone as large as Whole Foods marketing our product in a way we could never afford… this is the kind of partnership we wanted,” said Dale Richardson of the Swordfish Quota Society following three days of filming, interviews and photo shoots by U.S. based Whole Foods and PBS earlier this month.

The eastern Canada harpoon fishery is the first swordfish fishery in the world to earn MSC certification. The designation came last year following a comprehensive fishery assessment process and the joint efforts of the SHA, the Swordfish Quota Society and the Nova Scotia Swordfishermen’s Association.

“We changed our whole approach to the fishery,” said Richardson. “We don’t have a fleet that all sails at once and all lands at once… The reality is we have to fish for the markets.”

During the MSC process, Whole Foods, touted as the “world’s leader in natural and organic foods,” brokered a deal with harpoon fishermen for product.

“So far it’s been very successful,” said Richardson, with shore prices almost doubling compared to several years ago when the swordfish fishery was getting a bad rap for the number of small fish being landed.

With more than 300 stores in North America and the United Kingdom and the transportation links to go with them, “We can have product from wharf to  any store within three days,” said Whole Foods seafood buyer Dan Rand, during filming on the Falls Point Wharf in Woods Harbour by PBS for the series Saving the Ocean on July 20.

After three days at sea it was the final day of shooting by PBS. “It was very exciting to see harpoon sword fishermen in a fishery that is sustainable,” said series host, renowned U.S. marine biologist and best-selling author Carl Safina.

For Safina, the trip to Georges Bank in search of swords was his second trip to one of the most prolific fishing banks in the Atlantic.

“The first time was eight years ago,” recalled Safina. “Compared to then, there are more fish around. The fish are doing better. The habitat is improved. It was fantastic to be out there again. Georges Bank is so full of life.”

Saving the Ocean, which premiered in April on 100 PBS stations, will likely broadcast the episode featuring the swordfish fishery in 2012, said Safina, adding several other sustainable fisheries will also be featured on the same show.

Saving the Ocean takes a positive approach to marine conservation. “We hope to show people that there are better ways to do things and take them to places they haven’t seen before,” said Safina.

Between 70 and 80 boats are active in the swordfish harpoon fishery, with an estimated 80 per cent of the fleet based in southwestern Nova Scotia.