You sit down at a new seafood restaurant and look at the menu. The usual suspects are there: Salmon, tuna, swordfish and shrimp. You’re pretty sure the food is good, but you’ve got other considerations on your mind.
Is the salmon wild-caught or farmed? Where does the tuna come from, and is it sustainable? Was the swordfish harpooned or snared on a long line that stretches for miles and is blamed for killing many tons of non-targeted species? Does the shrimp come from Thailand?
Consumers have recently begun to ask more questions about the origins of their seafood. This is a good thing from a sustainability perspective as well as a gastronomic one. Atlantic salmon stocks are still recovering from a history of over-fishing and consumption, but thanks to advances in aquaculture, some of the pressure has been removed. Still, buying salmon raised in massive pens jammed with so many fish that they breed disease and spread it to wild populations if they escape may not be the most sustainable choice in the long run. Some aquaculture operations fight diseases with antibiotics, which get passed on to the consumer.
So what is the right answer? Just as choosing whether to keep or release a fish is a personal choice, so is the decision of which seafood to consume. Learning more about what stocks are sustainable and which to avoid is an important first step in understanding the consequences.
Here are some basic suggestions to think about when choosing seafood at a restaurant or grocery store:
- Where did it come from? The further away, the more energy used to ship it. This is especially true if you live on the West coast and you eat fresh Maine lobster that was flown overnight. Long distances can also affect freshness.
- How was it caught? Some methods are less destructive to the ecosystem than others.
- If it was farmed, were the farming practices sustainable? Did they use antibiotics?
- Does the species have a healthy population? Eating lower on the food chain, such as mackerel and mussels helps guarantee the sustainability of the choice.
- Is it local? If so, this choice is not only good for your conscience and your stomach, it’s also good for the local fishing community.