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Seafood Watch

I promise I will get to all the recipes and restaurant reviews in time, but first it’s important to know where you’re sourcing from, what species are at risk, and how they are being caught.

This is particularly vital for those of us living inland, where quality, price, and sustainability can be a tricky balance.

My go-to for such information has always been Monterey Bay Aquarium’s, Seafood Watch. Beginning in 1999, this program helps advise consumers, chefs, and business professionals using science-based advisory lists and articles. Their guides are updated twice annually, while the website is done on a more regular basis.

I digress.

I am a perpetual researcher, learning is a high, and I often have the habit of getting too excited and overwhelming with info when I write. This is a habit I will try to curb when posting here, so as to highlight the most pertinent information, and keep reading light and pleasant. For those interested in knowing more, I will provide further resources at the end of each post.

Seafood Watch guides are divided into three sections, best choices, good alternatives, and avoid. Best choices are “well managed and caught or farmed responsibly.” What some people don’t understand is that even farmed fish can be detrimental to the environment, depending on method. Open net pens, for example, are considered high impact. Built in offshore coastal areas or freshwater lakes, built up waste can pass into the surrounding environment. Farmed fish can also escape, competing with their wild counterparts for food, interbreeding, and passing disease. Hatcheries, ponds, raceways, submersible net pens, and ranching are other methods to be wary of, though processes exist which can reduce some of their impact.

Outside of farming, fishing methods also need to be taken into account. Bycatch is one of the biggest concerns. This results from using less selective fishing methods like gillnets, longlines, or bottom trawls, and catching animals not mean to be sold for food such as sea turtles, seabirds, dolphins, and sharks. As many as 200,000 loggerhead sea turtles are caught annually. Shrimp fisheries cause some of the most issues, “in the worst cases for every pound of shrimp caught, six pounds of other species are discarded.”

Bycatch aside, habitat damage is another concern. Bottom trawling and dredging are some of the worst methods, which involve dragging large equipment along the seafloor. It is the ocean’s equivalent of clear-cutting a rainforest. Environments can’t always recover, but action can be taken to limit areas where these methods are allowed, and lower the number of times in a year they can be used.

To round out this post, here are some statistics to give you an idea about human’s continued impact on the oceans. Despite how big they may seem, their resources are not endless

and need to be protected.

  • Half a billion pounds of seafood are taken from the oceans each day

  • Of the 465 shark species, 74 are listed as vulnerable by the Union for Conservation of Nature

  • Breeding populations of the Pacific Bluefin is now only 4% its original size

  • One estimation suggests unreported and unregulated fishing losses are between 11-26 million tons

  • Recent studies suggest 20-30% of seafood imported to the US is illegal

While I have tried to touch on most big fishing and farming concerns, there is still much more to understand when buying your seafood. I won’t go about listing every best choice, good alternative, and species to avoid as this is what the Seafood Watch guide is for, which can be found here.

Seafood Watch Guide (January - June 2017)

Seafood Watch Sushi Guide (January - June 2017)

It is every consumer’s responsibility to ask their local fishmonger or restaurant about location, fishing, and farming methods when making a purchase. For those doing so regularly I suggest printing out the guide – which is a delightfully convenient credit card size – and trying your best to stick to its suggestions.

For those endlessly curious like me, here are some of the resources I utilized during research:

Fishing and Farming Methods

Wild Seafood