(This article was originally published on OceanLines on August 13, 2008.)
About a year and a half ago I started carrying around an extra card in my wallet and about a year and a half ago was the last time I ate Chilean Sea Bass. In my favorite class of junior year, The Oceans, my teacher gave me the Blue Ocean Institute’s Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood and it changed my view of seafood. After reading through the little guide I discovered that when I order the Chilean Sea Bass at my favorite seafood restaurant I am contributing to illegal and unregulated fishing, I am responsible for the death of seabirds including albatrosses and petrels, and my body may be obtaining unsafe levels of mercury or PCBs. This little wallet sized piece of paper has permanently changed my eating habits and has shown me that one person really can make a difference. Now when I go to the grocery store to buy fish or go out to a seafood restaurant I take out my guide and do my best to only order the fish that is best for the environment.
After vigorous fisheries research the Blue Ocean Institute rates a species in several categories including life history, abundance, habitat quality and fishing gear impacts, management, and bycatch. Then it is given a final score and a color of green, yellow, red, or something in between. A green fish symbol means that the species is being fished relatively sustainably. A yellow fish symbol means that there are problems that exists either with the abundance of the species or the method by which it is being caught. A red fish symbol indicates a species that has numerous problems whether it is overfishing, a high level of bycatch, the cause of environmental problems, or a combination of all of these. Also beware of the red flag! It means that the fish contain levels of mercury or PCBs that could cause health problems. Some species that are fished sustainably can still be unhealthy.
Another fish that I have not had recently is salmon. This is because the right salmon is not aways avaliable. When purchasing salmon it is crucial to know where it came from and how it was caught. Pacific salmon populations are well below healthy levels and they are experiencing severe habitat degradation from dams and development which is putting futher strain on the species. It receives a yellow fish symbol. Farmed Atlantic Salmon causes serious environmental problems including water pollution and disease. There is also the concern that the farmed salmon will escape and spread diseases to the healthy wild population. It recieves a red fish symbol. But, not to worry, there is still salmon you can eat without feeling guilty or contributing to those problems: Wild Alaska Salmon. At least one fishery there has been labeled well managed and sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. The population remains high and they live in a mostly healthy habitat. The only downside is the price, be prepared to spend an arm and a leg. The last time we went to the market to buy Wild Alaska Salmon it was being sold for $39.95 a pound.
With this guide I feel like I really am making a difference. Maybe it’s not a huge one because, after all, I am only one person, but every little choice means something. I can’t go out in my mother’s kayak, sit in front of the massive fishing boats and demand them to stop using nets that catch and kill the fish as well as sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and more bycatch, but I can lower the demand for badly managed fish by simply not buying them. The point is that we have a responsibility to the oceans. And with these guidelines we all have the ability to make a difference by supporting the sustainable fisheries and refraining from buying fish that is responsible for serious environmental problems.
Try some of these links to help you make “ocean friendly” choices, too.
- A downloadable Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood
- An explanation of the Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood
- Seaweb’s Smart Choices
- Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector
- New England Aquarium’s Ocean-Friendly Seafood Species
- Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch
Copyright © 2008 by OceanLines