Who Really Knows What And What Not To Eat?

16 06 2009

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is widely known for it’s conservation efforts. They publish a list of fish which are listed as “best choice,” “good alternative,” and “avoid” for sustainable consumption. sfw_factsheet.aspx?gid=32 When I was there a few years ago, I studied this list and noticed something interesting. The restaurant inside the Monterey Bay Aquarium, The Portola, featured monkfish on the menu, a fish that the Aquarium listed as “avoid” due to the harmful method of trawl fishing that is used to catch them. monkfish How are we as consumers supposed to know and trust what fish to buy and eat? In my opinion, the best method of buying (wild species) is to find out the origin of the fish and the fishing method. 

Alaska has one of the best fisheries because of regulation. (Most of my fishing cohorts believe it is heavily, overly regulated.) There are many methods of commercial fishing. Nets, also called purse seines or seine nets, trap thousands of pounds of fish at a time. This method is reasonable, and it’s how most wild salmon are caught. Trawls, or dredges are also used, which essentially rake the ocean bottom and haul up the catch. This is the worst method of fishing due to the amount of byproduct that is wasted and it’s harm caused. Gill netting is another method used which ensnares and entangles the fish in a net.  Using hooks in methods like long lining and trolling is the best method due to the quality of the fish caught (less bruising) and the minimal effects on the environment. Harpooning is less common, but also an excellent alternative fishing method.

Some shellfish, scallops for example, are mostly trawled for, however, you can find some that are caught by divers. The best way to buy seafood is to be as environmentally conscious as you can knowing that by eating seafood, like almost everything else, you are inevitably contributing to some aspect of destruction. When you eat anything, you should generally try to be as knowledgeable as you can to minimalize your impact on the environment around you.




5 responses

11 01 2010
Michael A. Vaughn

The Monterey Bay Aquarium also says that farm raised tilapia is fed an all vegetarian diet, which isn’t true. The meal contains about 5% animal protein.

I would like to hear your views on the MSC sustainability certification. I plan on writing, very soon, my views on this subject.

11 01 2010

Thanks, Michael! Regarding Msc certification, while logical and necessary, I question how effective it will be. What I do know is that it is a good marketing tool now, with everyone wanting to “go green” without looking into what that even means. Consumers see the MSC certification on the package they buy and feel good about themselves for being concious about their carbon footprint. So, I hope the certification process is genuinely used to encourage sustainable practices and punish bad fisheries, and not primarily as a marketing tool that is sold or given to fisheries.
Being out on the boats, I’ve seen fisheries engage in many horrible practices that go under the radar and will, unfortunately continue to. I am in favor of a 1 srtrike and you’re out policy for fisheries- meaning if they are caught doing something blatently destructive or illegal they lose their fishing liscence, rather than the relatively small fines that they usually receive.

13 01 2010
Michael A. Vaughn


I wonder if “sustainability” is achievable in world markets. Aside from that, as more fisheries move to acquire the MSC label will demand for a particular species increase? If so, price increases are sure to follow – as will an increase in illegal fishing. How can something be certified sustainable when there are so many variables such as ocean conditions, catch landed, illegal harvest, etc.? I think that without strict regulation MSC certification is moot for what is hoped to be achieved. Am I on the right track here? Or am I being naïve in my approach on this issue?

Thanks for your response,

Former (on-again-off-again) Fishmonger (eighteen plus years)
Sublimity, OR

P.S. Nice site! Please, keep writing.

13 01 2010

You’re exactly right, Michael. It is impossible at this time to regulate certain variables. Again, I think MSC cert. is a very preliminary step in a much greater issue that needs to be resolved.
Also, I was a fishmonger for 5 years as well!
Thanks, for reading!

14 01 2010
Michael A. Vaughn

My Brethren,
Thanks for the input. I’m going to start my research and form my thoughts on this issue; then write about it.

I used to have a blog called Seafood University, but your site is so much better (and far more entertaining). I hope that you keep it up.

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