Monday, February 16, 2009

Seafood Choices

A lot has been written and talked about consumer choice and activism, but we shouldn't underestimate its impact. When it comes to the health of our oceans, consumer activism can have an enormous impact.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

Most of our seafood is not farmed. Unless the label specifically states that the seafood was farmed, you can assume it was wild-caught. There are pros and cons to both wild and farmed seafood. I think the jury is still out on the sustainability of farmed seafood. Now, wild-caught might sound good, and the oceans might seem like an unending supply of food. But they are not. There are billions of us humans. Seafood is the only source of food that is wild and harvested in the wild. Imagine how many "wild" cows it would take to supply one McDonald's alone...never mind all the other fast-food joints around the world. And there are a LOT of unsustainable harvesting/fishing practices occurring as we speak. But that's a post for another day!

There are some fisheries that are better choices than others, and that's where consumer activism comes in. When using the term fisheries, I am referring to one particular species of seafood (fish, shellfish, other invertebrates) that is fished/harvested in a general geographic area. Some fisheries are in better "health" than others. The fishery is managed better, the population is larger, there are limits on how many organisms can be taken at one time, and the ocean waters are in good condition in that area.

Sometimes fisheries have to close because of water pollution that affects the organisms in that area. Some fish species you shouldn't eat because the level of mercury that is in the fish's tissue (bioaccumulation) is so high that it can gradually poison us. And in some cases, some species of fish are so vital to the marine ecosystem, and/or the population numbers are so low, that they shouldn't be harvested at all. In my opinion, sharks are a good example of species who are too important to the ocean's health to be removed!

If we make responsible decisions about the seafood we buy, then there is less economic benefit for companies to continue to fish in unsafe ways (unsustainable). There are a couple of good sources for this information:

Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch publishes very handy seafood pocket guides each season specific to your region. They even have a Sushi guide now!
SeaWeb is an ocean conservation organization. They have a number of on-going conservation and policy projects, including KidSafe Seafood. KidSafe Seafood suggests the best choices at the grocery store, specific to childrens' nutritional needs. (At a recent science conference, I picked up a magnet for my sister-in-law.)

Happy Shopping!