Many of us will start off the new year with exercise and diet resolutions to get our health on track for 2015. If you follow a diet plan, health blog or weight loss system most suggest replacing your chicken and beef with fish a few times a week. Fish has a valid reputation of being high protein with good fats, those sought after Omega 3s we hear about.
But, as we all flock to the local seafood markets to increase our fish there are a few things we need to keep in mind. Some seafood is better to buy than others. Not for health reasons but for the fact that in a few years they may not even exist anymore. Scientists estimate about 75 percent of the world’s seafood stocks are being harvested faster than they can reproduce and replenish their populations. Studies estimate that 90 percent of the oceans top predators are gone. Species like the Atlantic bluefin tuna, a highly prized fish, scientists say, may be eliminated from the ocean in less than three years unless catches are decreased.
Overfishing is just one of the major concerns in the seafood industry. Another problem is aquatic habitat destruction by harvesting seafood. Trawl ground gears and shrimp dredges can penetrate into the ocean floor redistributing the tiny organisms that reside there and modifying overall habitat. Bycatch or the capturing of non target species remains a big issue today. Bycatch results in the discarding of a valuable living resource or the sale of the unintended species causing further depletion. Farming has it’s major shortcomings as well. Fish are held in small tanks creating point pollution that effects the surrounding water supply. There are some recirculating systems that aim to reduce the environmental impacts of seafood farming, but these techniques are not widely used.
With so many factors to consider it is complex to research and understand the impact improper fishing has on our aquatic environments to be able to make wise decisions at the seafood market. Luckily, we can rely on scientists to put this data into somewhat easy to understand material to guide our decisions in the grocery store.
There are several certification programs out there designed to evaluate the sustainability of each species. Quite frankly, there are too many. In one day in the store I ran across five programs: Marine Stewardship Council certified, Aquaculture Stewardship Council Certified, Canadian Organic Certified, Naturland certified, and Friends of the Sea Certified. As a consumer this is confusing and it’s hard to tell what you should buy.
Here is my suggestion: Download the free Seafood Watch app on your phone (they also make printable cards if you don’t have a smart phone) done by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium in California. The Seafood Watch program collaborates with several of the other certification programs, utilizes scientific research, adjusts seafood choices for your region in the United States and has a simple green (good), yellow (ok) and red (don’t buy) system.
I stopped by a few local fish markets this week to see how easy it was to determine the most sustainable options in each store utilizing the app and the fish market staff.
Central Market (off Lovers Lane) was by far my best experience. It had the largest selection and most knowledgeable staff. The guy behind the counter wasn’t thrown off by my questions regarding seafood sustainability or where each item specifically came from. Cooking with fish for the past 15 years, he was definitely interested in making sure my meal was going to taste good as well.
When I asked which item is purchased the most, he replied emphatically with “By far salmon” which showed in the five different choices of salmon offered. It is important to make sure you find the specific type of salmon offered in the store with the rating in the app. It is also very important to ask questions beyond the label that is on the counter to find out if it’s a “green” choice or not. Where exactly in the US was the fish caught or farmed? How were they caught?
Don’t rely on the seafood counter to have all of your sustainability knowledge. Go in with your own tools to help guide your decisions to support the health of our oceans. And lastly… price. Sustainable fish is not cheap but paying a little extra to ensure that species is around in the future is worth it.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.