How to eat seafood sustainably

Some general guidelines, tips, and resources for supporting good fishing practices.

AP Photo/Brian Branch-Price
North American flounder and tuna for sale at a market in New Jersey.

In general, US fisheries are better-managed than others worldwide, so try to buy local seafood. This may be difficult as well as expensive, because America imports 80 percent of its seafood. Think of the higher price as one that’s closer to the true cost of a sustainable fishery.

The London-based nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council has certified 26 fisheries worldwide, including Pacific albacore, Alaskan pollock, and Baja Mexican red rock lobster.

Friend of the Sea, another international nonprofit, also has a certification process.

The basics: educate yourself

The lower you eat on the food chain, the better for you and the marine ecosystem. Predator fish may accumulate toxins like PCBs. Larger fish are also longer-lived, take longer to mature, and so are more vulnerable. If you don’t know the status of a given fish, a "forage" fish is probably better.

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fishwatch has a wealth of information and recommendations.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch has a pocket guide to print out. It recommends wild-caught Alaskan salmon (not farmed), Pacific sardines, and even harpoon-fished Hawai­­ian swordfish, among others. It urges consumers to avoid orange roughy, groupers from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic, and Chilean seabass.

The Blue Ocean Institute’s Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood also has a guide to print out.

At the supermarket

Greenpeace has just released a study ranking supermarket chains on their seafood sustainability. Whole Foods and Ahold USA top the list; Trader Joe’s and Publix are near the bottom.

Write your elected officials

In the United States, the newly reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act calls for an end to overfishing in US waters by 2010 and for yearly quotas by 2011. It also calls for the US to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in international waters.

Since 1995, the United Nations has had a code of conduct for the high seas to establish sustainable fishing practices. It recently put out a nonbinding resolution on high seas bottom trawling that calls on nations to stop trawling until they have written environmental impact assessments.

Urge elected officials to stay the course – to push for the goals made explicit in US legislation, and support regulatory efforts on the high seas.

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