Do you need clarity on what happened to our once abundant and seemingly non-toxic ocean eats? I am sure you have heard mixed reviews on what’s in the wild, aquaculture and the many contaminants that plague our sea creatures. Pretty confusing when it comes to ocean eats! According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (my go-to on issues related to anything fish):
Our seas are not the infinite bounty they appear to be. Today, no part of the oceans remains unaffected by human activities. And among the many factors influencing our ocean ecosystems, few have as great an impact as fishing. Over the past five decades technology has allowed us to fish farther, deeper and more efficiently than ever before. Scientists estimate that we have removed as much as 90 percent of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and cod from the world's oceans. In 2003, the Pew Oceans Commission warned that the world's oceans are in a state of "silent collapse," threatening our food supply, marine economies, recreation and the natural legacy we leave our children.
I don’t mean to depress you rather offer a little insight into the reality of ocean eats and what you can do to navigate this fishy (and complex) situation. Bottom line is that anything from the sea gets from dock to dish in two ways—fishing (wild caught) and farm raised (or aquaculture):
Fishing (wild caught) There are multiple ways to fish whether by pole or net. While wild surely seems like the way to go there is a lot to think about when it comes to how your fish is fished. Sadly, waters have been depleted as a result of:
- Illegal fishing
- Habitat damage (such as large nets that can damage ocean beds)
- Bycatch(fishing practices that trap other species like sharks and sea turtles thus threatening other life)
- Poor management
So, rule of thumb when it comes to what’s in the wild—please choose with the environment in mind. The Seafood Watch can help with that. And while they provide you, the consumer, with great info the Marine Stewardship Council tirelessly works to promote sustainable fishing practices among commercial fisherman!
Fish Farming (aquaculture) The gist of aquaculture is that finfish and shellfish are grown in the sea in controlled environments whether open or closed systems. Just as poultry and cattle are raised, so too are many of your sea creatures. If done right, aquaculture holds promise for the ever increasing demands on ocean waters—while these farms provide, the ocean wild can replenish. Though, knowing how to navigate farmed fish is key (but not that simple) so here are a few tips:
- Look for aquaculture operations that avoid or limit habitat damage (fish farms located on coastal waters damage critical ecosystems)
- Aim for fish from closed systems (open systems are typically overcrowded, promote escapes, accumulate waste, promote disease and contamination)
- Understand the management practices of the farms—from what your fish are eating to how their waste is managed.
While aquaculture is strictly regulated by the US Department of Environmental Conservation to ensure that fish farms are using the best management practices, I advise that you ask your fishmonger questions or download that handy Seafood Watch onto your smart phone to have some of the most current info at your fingertips.
A few other things to think about when it comes to fish (and a few things you may need some clarity on):
- There is NO SUCH THING as organic salmon;
- The prospect of GMO salmon is super scary; and
- Imposter fish is a growing problem
Let’s keep this conversation going. Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions. I would love to hear from you!