Shark, Swordfish and Cod – Oh My!

As a girl who has grown up and lived her entire life in the Pacific Northwest, enjoyed the easy access to our many waterways, fished for fun and is an enthusiastic seafood consumer some of the scientific information coming out about the state of our oceans is very sad and alarming.

A recent PBS news report “7 Questions to Ask Before You Eat That Shrimp” talks about the unsustainable and harmful fishing practices that are damaging our waterways and ultimately us and the planet.

At this point, across the planet, large pelagic predators, big fish, big shark, are being removed at a very high rate. So without a better international plan for management, there could be a time when there are parts of the ocean in which the trophic cascade has tipped so far that all you have is jellyfish in the sea.” Quote from Barbara Block, professor of Marine Sciences Evolutionary, Cellular and Molecular Physiology, at Stanford University

Whole portions of our oceans with no life but jellyfish and dead-zones in the Gulf of Mexico and other parts of the world from all the fertilizers and other contaminants used along the Mississippi Watershed and around the world are sad environmental impacts where humans are the responsible party.

“The average size of the dead zone over the past five years has been 5,176 square miles, more than twice the 1,900 square mile goal set by the Gulf of Mexico / Mississippi River Watershed Nutrient Task Force in 2001 and reaffirmed in 2008.”


It can be daunting to be an informed consumer, but the article on PBS made reference to Seafood Watch, part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and I found they have some great printable pocket guides to help you buy and consume safe, sustainably caught fish in your region. Here is the one I printed this morning for the West Coast.

About Seafood Watch:

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses make choices for healthy oceans. Our recommendations indicate which seafood items are “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives,” and which ones you should “Avoid.””

At the grocery store the Environmental Defense Fund recommends you look for the “country-of-origin labeling” aka C.O.O.L labels to help you make informed decisions. They also have other information and tools on their site to help you be an informed consumer and make choices that are better for you, your family and the environment.

“Of some help to consumers is country-of-origin labeling (also known as C.O.O.L.). In place since 2005, this labeling requires that large retailers (such as supermarkets) selling fresh or frozen fish indicate the country the fish came from and whether it is wild-caught or farm-raised.”

Another problem of non sustainable fishing practices and some commercial fishing operations is “bycatch”;


Sea Turtle in a pile of bycatch – photo from Karumbe from website.

The definition of bycatch, as stated in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, is:

Fish which are harvested in a fishery, but which are not sold or kept for personal use, and includes economic discards and regulatory discards. Such term does not include fish released alive under a recreational catch and release fishery management program.


Infographic from Oceana

In some cases, studies have shown for every one pound of shrimp caught in these unsustainable fishing operations SIX pounds of “bycatch” is discarded. From the Seafood Watch bycatch page:

“Many fisheries around the world throw away more fish than they keep. Some of the biggest offenders are shrimp fisheries. In the worst cases, for every pound of shrimp caught, up to six pounds of other species are discarded. And this incidental catch of unwanted or unsellable species, known as “bycatch,” doesn’t just include fish—turtles, seabirds and other animals also suffer.”

It can be hard to make informed choices and many times the healthier, environmentally friendlier options are more costly, but even with obstacles to making informed choices and cost I think it is worth the effort and the price to try. If we all don’t at least try this planet hasn’t any chance of sustaining us into the future.

Do you make environmentally influenced food choices?


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