Of all the decisions we make choosing the food we eat, when going to the market or dining out, one that is of great concern is the type of seafood we buy, whether to buy farm-raised or wild caught seafood. It is important to understand the difference and the effect each has to our health and to the health of marine ecosystems that are being threatened.
As a person who eats fish regularly, usually salmon and tilapia, I wanted to learn more about the fish I was buying and consuming. I felt it was important to research the safety and availability of sustainable seafood. I am writing about this subject because when I eat fish I do so with the idea that this is a healthy choice for me, and I want to know that I am not supporting unsafe fishing or farming practices. What I have found out is what a huge, huge subject this is. I’ll focus on:
- The efforts being made to ensure we are consuming a safe product
- Not supporting practices that are harmful, environmentally
- Information available to us, so we can make educated choices
Sustainable seafood is seafood from either fished or farmed sources that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the ecosystems from which it was acquired. The sustainable seafood movement has gained momentum as more people become aware about both overfishing and environmentally-destructive fishing methods.
Why is this important?
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, fish populations are becoming depleted because of the increase demand. Fish are being caught faster than they can reproduce. Some of the equipment that is used in fishing unintentionally can cause damage to the sea floor habitat and many species depend on this for survival. Some of these practices are harmful to sea turtles, seabirds, mammals and other marine life. This affects the balance of the marine ecosystems.
Farm-raised fish could be our future. I spoke with the seafood department at Whole Foods, here in Boulder. They explained that studies are showing, in about 20 years, we will see up to 50% of our seafood being produced in aquaculture (farmed-raised). As consumers, we can make sure we are buying seafood from fisheries that are managed responsibly.
Questions we need to ask:
- When buying wild caught seafood, what are the methods used?
- Are the methods harmful to other sea life and the environment?
- Is a particular seafood overfished?
- Is the fish MSC certified? (more on MSC below)
- If the fish is farm-raised, where is the fish farmed? What part of the world?
- What are the conditions of the pens the fish are kept in?
- What is in the feed for these fish?
- Cost and taste are, of course, important, as well.
Farm-raised fish is also known as aquaculture or ocean-raised. Is farmed fish safe to eat and is this the answer to the depleting supply of wild fish? Farmed fish are kept in pens that are sometimes overcrowded and therefore do not get much swimming room; this leads to fish that are prone to disease and fed antibiotics. These fish can and will get out of the pens and infect fish in the wild.
Farm-raised salmon, for example, accounts for 90 percent of the salmon sold in this country.[i] Farm-raised salmon typically would have a gray flesh. In an effort to give the fish their salmon color, farmers feed their salmon synthetic versions of the naturally occurring carotenoids that are produced in wild salmon.
I usually buy my seafood at Whole Foods Market and I had the chance to speak to the seafood department regarding farm-raised fish, synthetic carotenoids, and safe practices. There are many fisheries that follow safe practices when farming fish, however, there are many that do not. Whole Foods follows strict guidelines, when buying their salmon. This ensures that the farmers:
- Prohibit antibiotics, hormones, melamine, parasiticides in the feed
- Do not allow harmful or lethal methods to control marine mammal predators
- Provide detailed protocols to prevent escape of farmed fish into the wild
- Comply with 3rd party audits. Whole Foods visits these salmon farms, as well
Just to note - wild salmon becomes available starting in May and will last usually through October. June-September are the peak months.
Consumer Reports has an interesting article, regarding a project they conducted. They tested groceries and evaluated the honesty of labeling farm-raised fish vs. wild caught. Click here to read the report on ConsumerResports.org.
I learned about The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which is an international non-profit organization that runs a certification and eco-labelling program for sustainable seafood. The MSC was developed about 11 years ago. Fisheries that meet the MSC standard for a sustainable fishery can use the blue MSC eco-label. This allows consumers to easily identify sustainable seafood when shopping or dining out. For more information and guidelines from MSC go to their website at: http://www.msc.org/
The MSC looks at three aspects of a fishery:
- The condition of the fish stock or stocks of the fishery to ensure sustainability
- Impact of the fishery on the marine ecosystem
- Compliance of rules and procedures, to maintain a sustainable fishery and to ensure that the impact on the marine environment is minimized
You can obtain a seafood watch pocket guide, advising you on safe fish to buy and which fish to avoid. This pocket guide is free and available from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They have guides for different parts of the country depending on where you will be purchasing your seafood. Visit http://www.seafoodwatch.org/
Fish farming can be done responsibly, but not all follow safe practices. Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great site that gives so much helpful, detailed information to help us when buying our favorite fish. Whole Foods has information on their site, as well: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/values/certified-sustainable.php
Making good choices when buying seafood can help support environmentally responsible fishing and farming, reduce our health risk, and help to protect the fish supply for the future.
I hope this information is a helpful guide to assuring you are eating safe, healthy fish. Please visit the websites I noted in the text, for much more about this subject. Become aware and educated, so we can help make sure the future of seafood is secure.
“Check out the great salmn recipe”.
First, David, Globe Staff, Article in The Boston Globe, Catch of the day?,
July 3, 2008. References:1. Delicious Organics, http://www.deliciousorganics.com/controversies/wildvsfarmfish.htm2. Marine Stewardship Council, http://www.msc.org/ 3. Monterey Bay Aquarium Website, http://www.mbayaq.org/4. Whole Foods Market, http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/values/certified-sustainable.php.5. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia