It can be daunting to wade through all of the information out there about what we should be eating. Between fad diets, sale prices, ambiguous terms like “natural” or “safe”, and convoluted ingredient labels, “good” and “bad” food have fallen into an ever-expanding grey area.
When it comes to seafood, it can be even more difficult to discern what the “right” purchases are. Many times, the public is unaware of the plight facing our world’s oceans. The Bluefin Tuna, for example, is all but extinct. Many of their populations have collapsed entirely – some as early as the 1960s – and still the species is a victim of severe overfishing. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is attempting to slow the decline of the population, but high demand (one fish sold for $1.75 million in January!) and loosely enforced regulations have led to its near extinction. Populations have declined 97% since 1960. To lose this species would mean more than missing out on prime sushi – it would mean the loss of one of the ocean’s great predators, which would disrupt the entire ocean ecosystem.
Chilean Seabass, Atlantic Cod, and Orange Roughy are among the fish species facing harsh threats from humanity. Even species we don’t eat are feeling the impact of overfishing – when shrimp or small fish are caught by dragging large nets along the ocean floor (called “trawling”), other animals are caught as well. These unwanted animals are referred to as “bycatch,” and can include dolphins, turtles, tortoises, sharks, crabs, whales, sharks, and even birds. Estimates of the world’s bycatch range from eight to twenty-five percent of total global catch.
For more information about fishing methods, see the Seafood Watch’s page.
Seafood farming, or Aquaculture, is also becoming increasingly important. If done correctly, it can relieve some of the pressure on the world’s oceans. Not all aquaculture is created equal, though – check out Monterey Bay’s page to learn which farmed fish to nab (Arctic Char, Clams, or Catfish) and which to avoid (Salmon).
Fortunately, there are some resources available that make environmentally-minded grocery shopping a lot easier. Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch and the U.K.’s Marine Conservation Society both have free-to-download cell phone apps that make sustainable choices on-the-go much easier, and the Seafood Watch Online Buyer’s guide helps shoppers keep track of what seafood has the lowest environmental impact.
One of the premier activists for sustainably sourced seafood, this is the best place to start learning about seafood sustainability. Their app and buyer’s guide are great on-the-go resources.
The MSC has developed the most prominent seafood certification system around – look for their label on seafood, menus, even frozen dinners! The Council has partnered with Seafood Watch, fisheries, restaurants, and distributors alike to make sustainable seafood accessible to consumers around the world. They also have a cell phone app to help you make sustainable choices wherever you are.
A U.K.-based group that advocates for sustainable seafood, organizes beach cleanup, and provides an app to help consumers make sustainable seafood purchases.
No matter what else you think of them, Whole Foods is truly committed to providing fresh, sustainable seafood to consumers across the country. They provide information online and in-store about exactly where their seafood comes from. That’s something everyone can appreciate!
They have a great series on Seafood Sustainability covering a variety of related topics! This is a great introduction to seafood sustainability.