Sustainable Seafood Hook Up: The Details
Salmon, shrimp, tuna - they're among our favorites on the grill. But before you head to the seafood counter, arm yourself with important information on both ecological and health fronts.
The information below comes from Monterey Bay Aquarium's (MBAYAQ) Seafood Watch program and Oceans Alive, a seafood program of conservation group Environmental Defense (ED).
Seafood rated "eco-friendly" encompass various criteria, but here are a few terms to get you up to speed at the seafood counter:
By-catch is a term referring to fish that are caught unintentionally (remember the hubbub over dolphin by-catch during tuna catches?)
Some or all of it may be returned to the water, but by that point, it's often dead or dying. An estimated one fourth of the worldwide fishery catch is discarded each year as by-catch, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). What a waste!
Trawling nets are a big culprit, particularly with imported shrimp.
Fish that are being caught faster than they can reproduce, which depletes ocean supply, affecting the future of the marine ecosystem. An example of an overfished fish that continues to be caught: the popular Chilean sea bass (aka Patagonian toothfish)
Of the five species of tuna we might see in this country, the highly lucrative bluefin (popular for sushi) is overfished and severely depleted. International quotas are often ignored. A big fat NO.
Mercury, and not just for bluefin. Yellowfin and bigeye are susceptible as well.
Environmental Defense advises no more than one tuna meal per month, with extra caution for women of child-bearing age and children.
"It's [the bluefin tuna] the biggest and longest living of all tunas," says Tim Fitzgerald, a scientist at Environmental Defense. And? according to an article in the FDA Consumer Magazine, a publication of the? U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Larger fish that have lived longer have ?highest levels of methylmercury because it has accumulated over time."
Yellowfin tuna - proceed with caution. Consider the Atlantic mackerel, a relative of the tuna, which is not only less toxic but has rebounded from responsible fishing.
90 percent of shrimp in the US is imported, mainly from southeast Asia and Central and South America.
The issue for both imported and domestic shrimp is method of fishing, which results in enormous by-catch and in certain cases, endangerment of sea turtles and mangroves.
Keep an eye out for black tiger shrimp from southeast Asia, which are particularly known to be fished irresponsibly.
U.S. shrimp -- mostly from Gulf of Mexico and southeast -- has by-catch issues as well, but on a smaller scale. Wild or farmed shrimp is okay.
To date, no contaminants have been reported, according to MBAYAQ and ED. It's also key to know that shrimp, a smaller species with a shorter life span (about 12 months) is fairly low on the food chain and therefore less toxic.
Buy domestic -- wild or farmed. Ask the fishmonger the origin of the fish. If available, Northern shrimp (available in New England) and spot prawns (available in Pacific Northwest) are best eco choices.
Wild: Yes. Copper River salmon, one of the most sustainable species, has begun to arrive from Alaska for its three-month season. King is usually the first to arrive, followed by coho, sockeye, chum and pink varieties.
Caveat: Current cost of about $30 per pound for king, due to increased demand, small populations and rising fuel costs that impact both fishing boats and jet transportation. See Walter Nicholl's report on the price of wild salmon.
Farmed: No. On average, 2 Â½-3 pounds of wild fish (for feed) are required to produce one pound of farmed salmon. Other complicating factors include open-net farming, allowing for waste to pass into natural waters and escape of farmed species into the wild, which causes concern for interbreeding.
Wild: Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. Because of Alaska's strict fishery regulations, salmon remains relatively pristine.
Farmed: Advisory for PCBs, pesticides and dioxins. ED recommends no more than Â½ salmon meal per month.
Farmed Arctic char, related to both salmon and trout. Although not as rich as salmon, its pink color and meaty flesh might satisfy salmon eaters. Farmed in closed tanks, rather than open nets, which allows for better population control of population and waste treatment.
Grill-able fish that get the red alert on both eco and health grounds (mercury advisories for all) include
Orange roughy, red snapper, Chilean Sea Bass (aka Patagonian toothfish) and swordfish.
Although swordfish and Chilean sea bass have been the focus of two successful conservation campaigns over the past several years, they both remain in jeopardy due to pirate fishing and lax international fishing restrictions.
Try mahi-mahi/dorado or farmed striped bass, which pose fewer contaminant risks. Again, this is for grilling options, not for seafood as a whole.
GOODIE TWO SHOES
Other than farmed tilapia (which can be tasteless), you may want to consider farmed shellfish, particularly bivalves -- oysters, mussels and clams -- which are good choices on both ecological and health accounts.
Some general rules of thumb
Diversify and rotate your seafood menu, a good idea on both eco and health accounts.
Choose smaller fish, which are likely to have fewer contaminants.
Ask where the seafood is coming from and how it is caught.
Hook/Line-caught: Good choice
Trawl (net) caught: Usually means by-catch
Seafood shopping cards:
Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch (now available by region)
Pocket Seafood Selector from Environmental Defense
Seafood Guide from Blue Ocean Institute
Gotmercury.org is a non-profit dedicated to methylmercury contamination in seafood and offers a mercury calculator on its Web site based on body weight and seafood choice
To get a sense of what the government is saying about these issues:
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