Seafood generally gets a good rap. It’s healthy, right? Well, that depends on your perspective. Yes, seafood, in general, is low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamins and minerals and essential oils like Omega 3. Add in seaweed or kelp and you can supplement your meal with even more vitamins and minerals as well as iodine, which is necessary for proper thyroid function. While the bounty of the sea may be good for your health, the opposite may be true for the health of the ocean ecosystem. All nations must take drastic steps to curb the relentless pursuit of more and more seafood. It’s a finite resource that needs time to naturally restock – time that we, as a world community, are not allowing. So what can we do as individuals, or more aptly put, small fish in a big sea?
Your Dollar Speaks Louder Than Words
The first step you can take to make an impact on overfishing is to choose not to buy certain species. Two examples of popular oceanic species that have been severely overfished are bluefin tuna and orange roughy. Bluefin tuna is perhaps the most well known “high end” sushi choice. In January of this year, the first bluefin tuna of the season was sold at auction in Japan for just under $400,000! The law of supply and demand hard at work.
Orange roughy is on the other side of the spectrum. These bottom dwelling fish remained out of the limelight until around the 1970′s. In the US, roughy began to show up in local grocery stores in the 90′s as a popular low-priced white fish alternative. Akin to a gold rush, orange roughy were netted in schools of thousands, which decimated their ability to reproduce. In fact, so many were caught that many were dumped because the processors could not deal with the volume of catches. Fertile fishing grounds turned into ghost towns within a few years – a classic “boom and bust” scenario.
Tips for Supporting Sustainable Seafood
- Carry a sustainable seafood guide when you go to restaurants and grocery stores. The Monterey Bay Aquarium provides a pocket guide called Seafood Watch for regional seafood species and categorizes them as “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives” and “Avoid.” Download the Seafood Watch Pocket Guide here.
- Shop at grocery stores that select their seafood responsibly. This year Safeway received the best recommendation from Greenpeace followed by Wegmans and Target, which tied for second. It’s interesting to note that the seafood ranking article makes a reference to orange roughy as “one of the most vulnerable fish stocks on the planet” – a pretty powerful statement. See how your grocery store ranked on the Supermarket Seafood Sustainability Scorecard.
- Purchase “traceable” fish. If the store cannot tell you where and how your seafood was harvested, then you should choose not to support their business. Ideally, you want to purchase “hook and line” catches. Traditional “hook and line” fishing is more eco-friendly than other methods because there is little by-catch and if a species is caught accidentally, it may be released, hopefully unharmed.
- Eat locally caught fish and shellfish. If you choose fish that are locally caught through sustainable methods, you support your community, sustainable fishing, and make a “consumer choice” statement to restaurants and grocery stores. Sites like Walking Fish have links to seafood availability charts to find sustainable, local fish in North Carolina. Farmed oysters are a great way to buy a delicious sustainable resource and direct your dollars to a local environmentally-friendly small business.
Close to Home
The impact of unsustainable fishing is not relegated to the open ocean or far away countries. I have experienced the results of gill-netting in the sounds of North Carolina firsthand. In the backwater salt creeks where I love to fish for trout and red fish, gill netters come in at night and clean out the populations of popular sport fish. While they target the flounder and trout, many juvenile fish are killed when they sweep a fine mesh net through the creek, capturing everything in its path. Fishing in these areas goes from plentiful to no fish for days after the netters come through. This practice is currently legal in NC if you have a permit. Gill netting as a method to harvest fish should be banned. It destroys fish populations, which in turn hurts local fishing guides and recreational fishing not to mention killing or maiming any by-catch. The gill netter reports (mandated by the NCDMF) actually have a requirement whereas gill netters must report how many turtles they catch and in what physical shape they were returned – proof that this method is irresponsible and dangerous to the welfare of our sounds and oceans.
In the end, it is up to you, the consumer, to make a decision to purchase sustainable seafood. Demand to know where your food came from and what method was used to catch it. Many eco-conscience chains go to lengths to state “product of USA”, but you must go a step further. Tell the store or restaurant manager that you want to purchase sustainable, traceable fish and shellfish. So far, it seems to be working (Target Commits to 100 Percent Sustainable, Traceable Fish by 2015).