American consumers are increasingly aware of the benefits of
eating fish, particularly those rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, but
most are uneducated when it comes to ocean health.
American consumers are increasingly aware of the benefits of eating fish, particularly those rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, but most are uneducated when it comes to ocean health.
Demand for fish and fish products have grown in the last decade, but so have destructive fishing practices around the world, resulting in the overfishing or full fishing of 70 percent of the globe’s fisheries. An overfished area could rebound if cared for, but a fully fished area will not yield the amount of fish needed to sustain commercial fishing.
That’s a lot of fishy talk, but what it comes down to, according to activists like Sustainable Fishery Advocates’ Teresa Ish, is this: we’re killing our oceans. But there is good news: consumers can make a difference.
“Fisheries conservation is among the most important marine conservation issues today,” said Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “It’s an environmental problem whose solution is in people’s hands every time they buy seafood.”
Unfortunately, selling that message to consumers has been difficult. Understanding the reasons why one fish or another is not ecologically sound to purchase is complex, said Ish, co-founder and director of science for the Santa Cruz-based SFA, which seeks to educate consumers, restaurants, distributors and retailers on sustainable fishing.
“You can’t just say, ‘Don’t buy this kind of fish,'” Ish said. “You have to know how healthy the populations are, how it’s caught and the biological aspects of the fish that make it suitable to fishing or not. People tend to know that farmed salmon is a bad choice, but there are lots of other types of salmon, and not all of them are bad choices.”
Thus, environmental groups that advocate sustainable fishing – catching seafood using a method that ensures a fishery’s long-term supply and doesn’t harm the environment – must regularly evaluate the fishing practices used for many different types of seafood. These lists are then translated into updated consumer pocket guides by organizations such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, giving consumers choices between fish that are good, moderate and poor selections using a color-code of green, yellow and red.
SFA has taken another tack, launching Fishwise, the first labeling system for sustainable seafood, which alerts customers to safe purchases.
“There are fish that repeatedly show up in the green category – things like wild salmon, especially from Alaska, Pacific halibut, tilapia and catfish,” said Ish. “Others, like Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, farm salmon and most shrimp regularly wind up in the red, but the Marine Stewardship Council has certified a Chilean sea bass fishery because their practices are environmentally friendly. It takes looking, but with Fishwise, you find that a lot of times you can get the same things you usually buy if you look.”
Ish encourages grocers to switch to sustainable seafoods, but she knows that not everyone will buy them all of the time.
“We have some grocers that carry some fish that aren’t as good,” said Ish. “They talk to consumers and try to educate them, but it’s sort of like even if you’re on a diet, and you know you shouldn’t have that cookie, but you’re still going to have it sometimes anyway. Just don’t do it every day.”
For more information on sustainable fish and fish retailers in this area, visit www.Fishwise.org, or visit www.SeafoodWatch.org to print out your own pocket shopping guide to sustainable fish on the West coast.
what to eat
Cod, Pacific (pot and hook-and-line caught )
Crab, Imitation (Alaska pollock, U.S.caught from Alaska)
Crab, Snow (Canada)
Halibut, Pacific (U.S. and Canada)
Lobster, Spiny (U.S. and Australia)
Pollock (U.S. caught from Alaska)
Sablefish/Black Cod (Alaska and British Columbia)
Salmon (wild caught Alaska)
Striped Bass (farmed, wild caught)
Trout, Rainbow (farmed)
Tuna, Albacore and Bigeye (troll/pole caught)
Tuna, Skipjack and Yellowfin (troll/pole caught)
what to avoid
Caviar (wild caught)
Cod, Atlantic (U.S. and Canada)
Crab, King (Russia)
Rockfish (trawl caught U.S. and Canada)
Shrimp (Imported farmed or trawl caught)
Sturgeon (Imported wild caught)
Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch List, West Coast
For more information, call the aquarium at (831) 648-4800. For the complete Seafood Watch List, which includes a “good alternatives” list, visit www.mbayaq.org.