Sustainable Seafood – Crucial to Fishermen and Fish Alike

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Before explaining the sustainable seafood movement, let’s go over the history that made it necessary. The 1950’s were a new and exciting time for Americans. Airplane travel to exotic, faraway lands was a possibility.  People were using previously unheard of technologies at work and at home that were now commonplace, and gathered around a television at night that might have seemed like pure magic two generations before. A change swept through the worldwide fishing industry in this decade as well. Technology aboard fishing boats began to allow fishermen to haul in catches in record numbers. While this at first looked like good news for the fishermen, the increase in fishing did tremendous damage to many seafood species. Twenty nine percent of industrially fished species have collapsed since the 1950’s2. Creatures that relied on these animals for food, including whales and other marine mammals, have also been hurt2.

Seals like this one rely on various fish species for food. The seals are put in a hazardous situation if their food species are overfished as has occurred especially since the 1950’s.

Not only did the fished species and doubtlessly their ecosystems suffer, but eventually even the fishing industry itself was struck as the species fished for began to disappear2. Another problem that burgeoned for marine creatures from increased fishing was the danger that they might end up as bycatch – caught by fishing equipment other than the species sought – and die. As of April 2018 bycatch made up about twenty five percent of the sea creatures that fishermen caught2. Some common bycatch species include birds, sea turtles, and dolphins2.

Sustainable Seafood is a movement meant to restore long overfished species as well as to boost the income of fishermen and their communities2. Consequently, sustainable seafood practices are important to anyone involved in seafood from the fisherman to the consumer to the concerned environmentalist. It is easy to see why sustainable seafood is a growing trend – one of 2017’s top 20 for the National Restaurant Association1.

 

 Sustainable Seafood, Fished Species, and the Environment

Sustainable seafood technologies are being developed to solve environmental problems such as bycatch. One device consists of a set of bars at the bottom or top of a boat’s trawl net and is called a Turtle Excluder Device. The bars allow sea turtles to swim out of nets rather than being caught and hauled out of the water with the fished species2.

 

A sea turtle escaping a fishing net through a Turtle Excluder Device, hence avoiding becoming bycatch.

Fish barcodes are another sustainable seafood measure. The Fish Barcode of Life Initiative (abbreviated FISH – BOL) is a movement to develop an identifying barcode for every fish species4. Each fish species has a unique sequence to its DNA, and it is the information on this DNA sequence – along with a fish’s natural location and name – that are translated into the fish’s barcode. The use of these fish barcodes will accomplish a variety of goals, including protecting endangered fish species and helping out in cases where two different but similar – looking species need to be distinguished. In later years it is likely that these barcodes will aid seafood consumers by identifying a fish provided in a restaurant as the same species that was ordered by the customer2.

 

Sustainable Seafood, Fishermen, and the Communities that Depend on Them

One fish species whose increased sale would be instrumental to the success of sustainable seafood and the US sea food industry is the most common fish caught on the US East Coast and one which is obviously not in danger of extinction.  In Chatham, Mass., fishermen harvested 6 million pounds of this species – the dogfish – in 20161.

Dogfish

Almost all dogfish caught in U.S. waters, however plentiful, is exported to other countries. This is because Americans typically do not eat the fish and are unfamiliar with it. In Europe, however, dogfish is found in soups, stews, fish and chips, and several other recipes1.

A French seafood soup. Some seafood soups in France now feature dogfish as an ingredient.

While we in the US export dogfish and much of our other native seafood, we buy most of that which we use from other countries in a phenomenon that Allison Aubrey  calls “the seafood swap (Aubrey, 2017)”. This swap, while it does produce profits, can also be harmful to US fishermen.  Nancy Civetta, a Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance member (during an interview by Allison Aubrey), explained that dogfish should also be more widely consumed here in the US1.

Civetta added that if we can make dogfish a more popular product domestically, it will render our fishinig industry less sensitive to the shifting seafood tastes of buyers in other countries.  Those in favor of sustainable seafood practices therefore want us in the US to buy more of our own domestic seafood to strenghten our fishing industry and the communities that depend on it1.

The Acadian redfish, aided in avoiding extinction by actions of the Environmental Defense Fund

In an effort to inform the public about sustainable seafood choices fished from our own waters, the Environmental Defense Fund has initiated a campaign called Eat These Fish. The fund has also – through regulators, conservationists, and fishermen cooperating as well as quotas being developed – increased the numbers of species that were nearly extinct such as the Pacific Ocean Perch and the Acadian Redfish1.

Another organization good for sustainable seafood is Sea to Table. This program helps domestic fishermen to connect with buyers such as universities, chefs, etc. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has a Sea to Table contract and has hence been having students try dogfish through various recipes in its dining halls.  The fish can be found in tacos, sushi, and other dishes. The goal is for the students to be made aware of sustainable seafood choices like the dogfish, so that they might choose these as consumers in the future1.

Dogfish are now being incorporated into fish tacos and offered to students in dining halls at UMass Amherst.

 

How You Can Support Sustainable Seafood

The simplest way in which you can bolster the cause of sustainable seafood is to seek out sustainably produced seafood as a consumer. There are many guides published to  inform you on how to make the choices best for our environment and for our fishermen2.

When reading a seafood label, make a point of looking for the “MSC” logo. MSC stands for the Marine Stewardship Counsel. If a seafood product is certified by this group and bears the MSC logo, then it meets rigorous requirements set by the organization and is sustainable – though this certainly does not mean that seafood without the logo is not5. If a label on a seafood product does not tell you all that you want to know, ask the seller about the item and find out as much about whether or not it is sustainable as you can.  Some examples of questions to ask are of where the fish is from, whether it is farmed or caught, by what method it was caught if this applies, and whether or not the fish was reproductively mature5.

Pollack, an alternative to cod that is similar to the more sought after fish.

Another way in which to buy seafood sustainably is to vary your seafood buying choices. If too many consumers focus on buying one mainstream species of fish, it can harm the population levels of the species. This was seen to happen with the cod fishery in the UK. If you particularly enjoy a much sought – after fish like the cod, you can always find out species that are similar to this more widely – consumed fish and try them out. For example, in the case of cod, pouting, pollack, and gurnard are options5.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, the most crucial step to take in buying sustainable seafood is an easy one – ask a store or restaurant ” ‘Do you serve Sustainable Seafood(Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch)?’ “. Businesses’ financial supporters asking them about sustainable seafood will likely influence them to look into the topic if they haven’t already3.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch  also offers an app called seafood watch. This app directs one toward buying the seafoods that are most sustainable at present. The same website that offers this app also has a link to a printable guide that identifies the most sustainable seafood species by region3.

 

Also Shop for Sustainable Seafood at Atlantic Seafood!

In Atlantic Seafood, you have a source of sustainable seafood close by.  As you likely already know, those who run the business go out of their way to find local sources of  fresh sea food rather than focusing on the distant international sources that can hurt fisheries here. When you enjoy the taste of Atlantic Seafood’s diverse offerings, know that you are also supporting domestic fishermen and their communities! It’s a win – win situation.

 

Works Cited

1. Aubrey, Allison. “Would You Eat This Fish? A Shark Called Dogfish Makes A Tasty Taco”.
npr.org, 7 Jan. 2017, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/01/07/508538671/would-you-eat-this-fish-a-shark-called-dogfish-makes-a-tasty-taco.

2.the Ocean Portal Team. “SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD”.
Smithsonian, Apr. 2018, ocean.si.edu/conservation/fishing/sustainable-seafood.

3. “What You Can Do”.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, www.seafoodwatch.org/consumers
 Retrieved 26 Jun. 2018.

4. “Fish barcode of life [FISH-BOL]”.
iBOL Working Group / 1.1 Vertebrates – Fish barcode of life [FISH-BOL], www.fishbol.org.
Retrieved 25 Jun. 2018.

5. Cargill, Lee. “HOW WE CAN HELP SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD?”.
The Green Home, Construction & Lifestyle, 31 March 2013, http://thegreenhome.co.uk/food-drink/sustainable-food/how-we-can-help-sustainable-seafood

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