How to Eat Seafood Sustainably

By Marlena Norwood

Some people are against eating fish altogether (scientists have argued tirelessly about whether fish can or cannot feel pain – I strongly suggest doing some research on that topic). But even if you’re not, the fact that over two-thirds of the fish that we eat are being overfished should alarm you.

school-of-fish-3-1396196-mNot only does unsustainable fishing threaten our seafood resources in the future, it completely alters underwater ecosystems. Normally, habitats have bottom-up control, where the lowest species on the food chain control the food chain for higher up species. Aquatic ecosystems work in the opposite direction – top-down, causing trophic cascading when we overfish the species at the top of the food chain. Scientific American explains the problems with overfishing in a top-down ecosystem:

“If control is top-down, however, our impact will cascade in complicated ways, causing floors below to become alternately crowded and empty, potentially compromising the food supplies of some species we fish, and broadly rearranging ecosystems.”

Different kinds of fishing also have serious impacts in underwater ecosystems. We gawk at landscapes that have been devastated by deforestation. Well, trawling has a similar affect on underwater landscapes. Bottom trawling involves large nets being dragged along the sea floor, destroying much of what lies in its path. Just as we destroy the habitats of those on land, through destructive fishing methods we are destroying aquatic habitats that are so vital to our planet.

plate-of-shrimp-mexican-food-1321172-mBycatch is another awful side effect of certain fishing methods. Bycatch is the unintentional killing or injuring of other sea creatures while fishing. Trawling and long lining fishing methods produce a jaw-dropping amount of bycatch. According to Jonathan Safran Foer, long line fishing alone kills “3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles, 75,000 albatross, and 20,000 dolphins and whales” annually. When we consume seafood that was harvested in this unsustainable manner, we are really consuming the lives of countless other sea creatures.

Fortunately, we as consumers hold the future of sustainable seafood in our hands. We demand fish; therefore we can demand what kind of fish is caught and the methods used. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, partnering with many other organizations on the West Coast, has developed a Seafood Watch handbook that makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices.

photo-11How and where fish are raised, coupled with the numerous different species, makes identifying sustainable fish incredibly complicated. The handbook simplifies this process for us, highlighting “best choices,” “good alternatives,” and seafood to “avoid.” By avoiding unsustainably raised and caught fish, and choosing to support sustainable fishing methods, we can alter the trajectory of the world’s aquatic life.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website to get your Seafood Watch recommendations for your region.
  • Download the Seafood Watch App for your smartphone (available for iPhone and Android)
  • Make sure to ask your restaurant server exactly the type of fish they serve, so that you can identify it on the Seafood Watch handbook.
  • And then let them know if they’re serving unsustainable seafood!
  • Share the app with your friends and family to spread awareness around sustainable seafood.

Stay tuned for next Monday when we tackle the subject of wild versus farmed seafood!

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