If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to become more “green,” you’ll want to start committing to sustainable seafood.
You may have heard rumblings about the concept. But what does it all mean?
With myriad seafood selections available, the globalization of the fishing industry, proliferation of seafood farming, and the ever-changing ocean ecosystem, being an ocean-friendly consumer is more confusing than ever.
Scientists estimate that, at the current fishing rate, the great bluefin tuna will disappear within two to three years. Those who opt for Atlantic cod should know that they are contributing to the endangerment of the species. Ditto for skates, Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, marlins, and monkfish just to name a few.
According to the Karen Jeffries of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or in decline.
Research points to a vicious cycle in which consumer demand for popular species leads to overfishing.
Hurting the ecosystem
Overfishing is only part of the problem. Many conservationists are concerned about bycatch — the collateral damage of industrial fishing practices. “Bycatch can be birds, sea turtles or other fish that are caught in the net and simply disposed of as trash,“ explained Kate McLaughlin, seafood program director of the Blue Ocean Institute in East Norwich, N.Y. . “It can take a serious toll on marine populations.”
Farmed vs. wild
The water gets murkier when choosing between farmed and “wild caught” seafood. Proper seafood farming can alleviate the impact of overfishing and bycatch, but destructive farming practices can introduce parasites, chemicals and biological waste into the surrounding water.
Often the farmed vs. wild-caught conundrum can depend on the species of fish. For example, when it comes to tilapia, because they can be farmed safely. But for salmon, wild-caught from Alaska is a good option.
"There are no single parameters,” said McLaughlin.
Fortunately, U.S. fishing regulations rank among the world’s most effective. Species such as striped bass, which were once overfished are now making a comeback through proper fishery management.
Increasing numbers of businesses are also taking action. Whole Foods Market purchases 80 percent of its seafood from its own Pigeon Cove Facility and it follows the guidelines set by the Marine Stewardship Council in its farming and purchasing practices.
Manhattan’s Wild Edibles works closely with the Blue Ocean Institute. “There are some fish we simply won’t carry,” said seafood buyer Matt Hovey. “Bluefin is one of them, and West Coast Rock Fish is another.”
Restaurants are also catching on, too. “We basically create the menu trying to be as sustainable as we can,” Le Bernardin’s chef Eric Ripert wrote in an email. “There are plenty of great fish that are not endangered.”
amNY caught up with Wade Karlin, fisherman of P.E. & D. D. seafood, a Long Island fishery owner and operator who sells his wares at the Union Square Greenmarket.
AMNY: What are you doing to stay green?
WK: We stay in compliance with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, because we don’t want to overfish the species and put ourselves out of business. We’ve seen that happen with Striped Bass. With proper management, you can keep species around and keep making a living for yourself.
AMNY: Do regulations ever affect your business?
WK: Sometimes the quotas they put on us are a little too strict, and it can be very difficult to find a balance. But you’ve got to take care of the area that is making a living for you.
AMNY: Have you seen any species actually disappear?
WK: When I was growing up we used to have a lot of blowfish out in the bay. Now, we very rarely get blowfish. They’ve been fished to a point where they can’t sustain themselves.
What you can do
Carl Safina, founder of the Blue Ocean Institute suggested doing research on Web sites such as seafoodwatch.org, blueocean.org, and chefscollaborative.org before hitting the seafood counter.
Ocean conservation organizations — such as Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium — offer wallet-sized guides to help shoppers make better choices.
iPhone owners can download an app from seafood watch, and others can text Blue Ocean Institute’s FishPhone. Simply text 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the fish in question, and the Blue Ocean Institute will text back with an assessment and better alternatives.
Adapted from "Fish Without a Doubt" by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore.
Oysters are very sustainable. They are filtered feeding shellfish, and actually improve the quality of the water they live in. In addition, they are very well suited for farming.
Why not use them to kick off your next party?
Pour a little bit of cocktail sauce into the bottom of a shot glass. Nestle 1 oyster in the glass and top with some more cocktail sauce. Add a dash of Tabasco sauce and top it off with some vodka. Throw back the oyster as if it were a shot.