Seafood Consumption

by
Dr. John Vann, Department of Marketing
Green Initiatives Coordinator
August 2002

The survival of some of our favorite seafood species and their habitats is severely threatened by human consumption. We can't see the effects when we are reading a menu or looking in the seafood display cases in the supermarket, but our choices (along with those of others) have a great cumulative impact on the health of world fisheries. Slow maturity rates, limited or declining populations, or side effects from harvesting (scouring of the sea bottom, the loss of other sea life (bycatch), or pollution from open-water fish farms) make some of our favorite seafood bad choices from an environmental perspective. 

Chilean seabass (also called Patagonian Toothfish) is one of the worst. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Chilean seabass are in so much trouble that there have been efforts to get them protected under the Commission for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  Others to avoid include farmed salmon, Atlantic salmon, Atlantic swordfish, monkfish, grouper, snapper, farmed and most wild shrimp, orange roughy, Atlantic cod, shark, and bluefin tuna. These fish shouldn't be on menus and shouldn't be sold in supermarkets.

The good news is that there are good alternatives: wild Alaskan salmon, mahi-mahi, striped bass, mackerel, tilapia, farmed catfish, trapped shrimp, canned Albacore tuna (white), dungeness and stone crabs may be eaten with a clear conscience. Canned Albacore (white) tuna is preferred to tuna labeled as "light." The species canned as "light" tuna are harvested with purse-seine nets that are associated with significant bycatch (http://mbayaq.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_factsheet.asp?fid=75).

In the future, we may be able to rely on a certification labeling program directed by the Marine Stewardship Council to indicate whether a fishery is sustainably managed (http://www.msc.org/), but for now we must educate ourselves. There are several on-line sources of information regarding good and bad seafood choices. Some web sites are listed below.

http://environet.policy.net/marine/csb/flash/takeapass.html
http://www.formyworld.com/seafood/bestpicks.cfm
http://www.nrdc.org/wildlife/fish/gwhichfi.asp
http://www.audubon.org/campaign/lo/seafood/index.html
http://mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp
http://mbayaq.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_factsheet.asp