Sustainable Aquaculture

When my publisher and literary agent were speaking with various people about providing an endorsement for my cookbook, The Sustainable Kitchen, I received an interesting response from an older 70’s/80’s television chef. His note said he would be happy to endorse my book but only if we changed our view on sustainable seafood and aquaculture. His position was seafood, in general, is a high-protein, low-fat food. For health reasons, people need to eat more seafood in order to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids (the good fat) and reduce their intake of omega-6 fatty acids (the bad fat). Now, I am not one to contradict a celebrity, of course they must be right, but seems a bit short sighted to me.

Yes, a recent study titled, “Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with support from the Food and Drug Administration concluded that in spite of some concern about environmental contaminants, on balance, “seafood is a nutrient-rich food that makes a positive contribution to a healthful diet.” The findings advise all Americans to eat seafood regularly. Those who eat more than two servings per week should incorporate a variety of species into their diet to benefit from the variety of nutrients in different species and to avoid accumulated exposure to environmental contaminants.

Sounds great to me but what about the raping and pillaging of the world’s oceans by overfishing? What about the majority of aquaculture that pollutes the ground water and estuaries, overuses growth hormones and antibiotics, lets the environmental contaminants accumulate, degrades wild stocks with escapees and can have a negative net energy and protein loss? How about habit damage along the coast and under the water? No problem, don’t worry, seafood is good for you and there’s plenty of it available.

Perhaps the issue is a bit more complex than first imagined. It isn’t about “guilting” or scaring you but about ascertaining facts.

Fight factory fishing
operations that target small fish that feed the rest of the marine world and take over small-scale fishing communities much like agri-business took over the land and family farmers. Free Range Graphics and Grass Roots Action Center for the Environment(GRACE) haven’t made a “Fishtrix” yet but I think it is only a matter of time. (See “The Meatrix” spoof flash movie about Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or factory farms.)

Oppose industrial marine aquaculture that put small scale fishermen at a competitive disadvantage while introducing inferior products grown with the use of chemical dyes, antibiotics and, often, genetic manipulation. Not all aquaculture is bad. There are sustainable oriented fish farms. The problem is that the aquaculture industry does not have strong regulations yet and some of their practices are problematic. Additionally, the United States Department of Agriculture currently DOES NOT have organic standards for any seafood. For me however, nothing compares to the subtlety and variety of flavor of wild fish.

Ask Questions (from the Seafood Choices Alliance):

  • Is the fish farmed or wild caught? If it is farmed, in what type of production system? If it is wild caught, where was the fish caught and how was it caught (what type of fishing gear was used) and is there bycatch and habit damage issues?
  • Should it be caught? Are there fishery management issues? Are there more environmentally friendly alternatives or are there other similar fish to choose?
  • Is this fish really what people say it is? (is it red snapper, striped bass, Pacific salmon, etc…)
  • Find fish substitutions. Substitute wild Alaskan salmon for farmed salmon. (Atlantic salmon in U.S. stores and restaurants is always farmed.) West Coast sablefish/black cod is THE sustainable alternative to Chilean sea bass. Most shrimp production outside the U.S. entails considerable habitat destruction or bycatch. If you want to serve shrimp, U.S. and British Columbian trap-caught spot prawns (fresh and frozen) are the best choices. I may be bias but wild caught Oregon Pink Shrimp, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified and rated Best by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch is THE choice for wild shrimp – sweet, delicate, slightly briny and a big flavor in a small package.
  • Dredging or dragging for shellfish can damage the seafloor habitat. Replace dredged mussels, oysters and scallops with raised off-bottom on ropes or racks.

In my opinion, here’s what it boils down to. It’s a mindset change more than anything else. It will take more of your time to research and find sustainable alternatives but not necessarily more money. As SeaChoice says,

The ultimate solutions will require all of us – governments, industry, retailers and individuals – to take responsibility for changing our approach to seafood and fishing.

After all, that’s what it’s all about.

More on fish from the GO:
Choosing Healthy, Ocean-Friendly Seafood is a No-Brainer
One Fish, Two Fish, Let’s Just Not Fish: By-Catch in our Seafood Salad
Dolphins, and Turtles, and Seals – Oh My! The Effect of Fishing on the Animals We Care About
Environmental Defense: Farmed Caviar is a Less Expensive, eco-Friendly Alternative to Severely Depleted (and Banned) Beluga
Smart Seafood Choices

  1. Caroline

    Additionally, the original source of Omega3s in seafood is actually planktonic plants…if they think you need to eat seafood primarily to get omega 3s, reconsider! Consider flaxseed which is a great vegetarian source.

  2. millie

    indeed, caroline! flaxseed is great source of omega 3s, as are walnuts. just eat a handful every day and you can leave the fish in the ocean :).

    and, stuart: “It will take more of your time to research and find sustainable alternatives…” – yes and it will take no time at all to just leave fish off your plate entirely. you can save yourself the trouble :)

  3. Rachel

    Thanks for those tips, Stuart. I love seafood, but have been quite puzzled as to how to source fish that’s not farmed/caught in a manner that decimates the earth. It’s a big concern here in Australia as well, fwiw.

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