Sustainability is rarely as simple as a yes or no question, and that’s especially true with seafood. Seafood is the last major source of wild-harvested food in our diets, which is comes with some complications: there are hundreds of edible species, and each has its own role in marine ecosystems. And because fish populations vary from year to year and place to place, and because how the fish was caught is a major factor in its sustainability, it’s difficult even for the most educated consumers, to know which fish are the best to eat.
Luckily, there are some rules that can help take the guesswork out of seafood without needing to learn about every fish in the ocean.
Sustainable fishing does exist, and by understanding how fishing works in the United States, we can develop simple rules to guide our seafood purchases. FoodPrint’s latest report, produced in partnership with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance ( NAMA), identifies the key characteristics of sustainable seafood, explains the environmental, economic, and social issues facing the industry, and offers suggestions for navigating the complex world of seafood available to Americans. consumers.
Here are the best takeaways:
Support local fishing
If you live near a coast and have access to a fish market that sells locally caught seafood, buying there is a great way to support local sustainability-minded fishers.
Buying local seafood also helps avoid some of the potential pitfalls of buying seafood. Seafood supply chains often become long and complicated, taking resources away from communities for entrust to businesses and investors. Especially since seafood crosses international borders, catch information becomes increasingly sparse the further you get from the source, and the possibility of there being serious problems in the supply chain. supply – labor violations, seafood fraud and more – is increasing dramatically.
If you live further from a coast, try to keep your domestic purchases: there are still problems, but the United States has a better regulated fishery than most other countries. Buying seafood labeled as locally caught is always a safer bet than buying international seafood which inherently contains less information.
Try ordering direct
Buying sustainable seafood doesn’t always mean choosing it from a crate at the market or store. More and more options exist for buying seafood in a way that takes the guesswork out of sustainability. In many coastal areas, community supported fisheries (CSF) have adopted the successful model of community supported agriculture, assembling boxes of locally caught sustainable seafood for pickup or delivery. Typically, you don’t get to choose exactly what fish you get in your subscription, but it allows anglers to sell what’s most plentiful, fresh and sustainable rather than what will sell best in a store.
If you live far from the coast but still want to support sustainable fishing, a growing number of artisanal fisheries are offering direct-to-consumer deliveries by mail or internet. These are often frozen to lock in quality and texture, and are comparable to fish you might find at a high-quality market without having to guess where they came from.
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Stay open to frozen or canned
Fresh fish from the seafood counter may seem like the best option when it comes to quality, but the reality is that most fish you see at the supermarket has already been frozen at least once and then thawed before sale. When it comes to quality and durability, other options may be just as good. Many artisanal fisheries use flash freezing to keep catches fresh right out of the water. So whether you find these options online or in stores, you can rest assured that they are of good quality.
Canned and tinned fish can also be a sustainable and delicious option, with many more choices available than the cans of tuna many of us grew up with. Many of the smaller species that come in cans, such as sardines and anchovies, are very sustainable because they come from lower rungs of the food chain, meaning they are more plentiful and have a smaller footprint than larger ones. Pisces. Even for popular species like salmon, boxes can be a great way to get sustainably harvested produce away from the ocean or out of season.
Pay attention to how the fish was caught
The type of fishing gear and the scale at which it is used has a significant impact on the environmental footprint of fish. That’s why you’ll see labels and claims that say things like “line caught” or “pole caught” (these often appear on tuna cans!).
Some fishing methods catch too many other fish along with the target fish, and that fish is discarded (this is called “bycatch”). Some fishing methods disturb the seabed. Some can be very fuel-intensive, significantly increasing the carbon footprint of your meal. The scale of a fishing operation can also make a big difference: overly intensive fishing methods can depopulate entire schools at once and cause serious imbalances in marine ecosystems. `
When you follow the guidance advice of programs such as Seafood Watch or Whole Foods’ rating system, you can find out which fishing methods have been used and which are the most problematic. If you buy from a local fishery, you can ask them about their practices and what steps they take to minimize bycatch and other damage to the ecosystem.
Look beyond the most popular fish
Many of the most popular fish, such as tuna, eel and cod, are in such demand that their populations are under pressure. This is especially true for species that come from international waters where they may not be subject to rigorous monitoring and regulation.
Even when these populations are under stress, fishermen still feel compelled to bring them to market. Many consumers are intimidated by unfamiliar species that may be much more abundant in their area, even though they may be cooked exactly like more popular options.
By asking your fishmonger to recommend which is more abundant, you will be exposed to a much wider variety of underutilized species. You might find some new favorites along the way!
If you can’t talk to anglers, it’s a good idea to research an unknown species through a reputable third-party organization like Seafood Watch. While there is no perfect grading system, these can be a good indicator of whether a fish you’ve never seen before was caught sustainably or not.
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