Scientists have warned us that if we keep raising and eating seafood at current levels, we could be out of seafood by the year 2050. Ted Danson and other celebrities have signed on to making sure that seafood sustainability remains a key consumer issue—are you doing your part? These are the five worst seafood choices out there, regardless of where you are living. Don’t eat in the red.
1) Chilean seabass
Call it Patagonian Toothfish or call it Icefish; either way, call this Antarctic delicacy overfished. Like other larger, slower to reproduce animals, Chilean seabass fall victim to overfishing because they have such a limited ability to rebound from being caught in such large numbers. Unlike animals that reproduce like crazy—such as sardines or cockroaches—these tasty fish reproduce slowly. They eventually can’t keep up with the numbers dying from fishing, and they die off.
There is just one fishery of Chilean seabass certified by the MSC, coming from the South Georgia Patagonia Toothfish Longline Fishery. Wow. If you can find the stuff, and it will be hard to do so, by all means, go for it. But unless you see that “MSC-certified sticker” at the fish market, walk on by. This fish is in the red.
2) Orange roughy
The average orange roughy in the wild outlives most of our grandparents, making it to past 100 years old for most individuals! As you might guess, the longer-lived animals are also the slower to mature and reproduce, so orange roughy has also had a difficult time recovering from overfishing. Virtually all of the orange roughy eaten in the world is wild-caught, and virtually all of it is overfished. Not only are populations dwindling at alarming numbers, but the way that fishermen catch these fish in the wild is disturbing. Orange roughy are bottom dwellers; they live on the ocean floor. To catch them, fishermen use “bottom trawlers,” huge nets that scrape along the bottom of the ocean floor. Not only are these massive, heavy trawlers extremely efficient at catching orange roughy, they are also extremely efficient at catching anything else in their way—shrimp, coral reef, habitat... catch our drift?
Yes, you’re a foodie, and shark fin soup in on your culinary must-try list, but trust us: Don’t do it. Did you know that fishermen cut off the fins from caught sharks, then toss the rest of the dying animal back in to the ocean? It’s common practice. Wild-caught sharks are in drastic decline worldwide; their estimates down by an average of 80% around the world. And in terms of mercury and heavy metal contamination, sharks are one of the worst choices. Their levels of these dangerous pollutants are so high that the Environmental Defense Fund has issued a human health advisory against eating any shark meat.
4) Imported shrimp
There is so much wrong with imported shrimp, it’s hard to tell where to start. Ahem. Imported shrimp that’s wild-caught is caught via bottom trawlers, as described with the orange roughy. The damage from this fishing method cannot be understated. Bottom trawlers catch endangered sea turtles, seahorses and coral reef in copious amounts. Their impact on the entire ocean’s diversity and longevity has been wrought for innumerable years to come. Avoid imported wild-caught shrimp at all costs.
Unfortunately, imported farmed shrimp is no less dire. Farmed shrimp, usually from Mexico and Asia, is raised in open ocean farms, or typically along mangrove forests, where land is severely damaged due to careless pollution and poor management. We’ve seen destruction of mangroves, pollution of local waters, displacement of native peoples and disease outbreaks from such shrimp farms. Instead, choose US shrimp—whether wild-caught prawns from the Pacific Northwest or farmed anywhere in the country, these US-sourced shrimp are your greener choice.
5) Bluefin tuna
If you live in California, you may remember a year or two back when a local chef was busted for secretly mongering Bluefin into his restaurant and serving it as an off-menu option for those in the know. Naughty chef. Well, foodies, the situation with Bluefin is actually that serious. Since only 1980, we’ve lost all but 15% of these incredible animals in the wild—incredible. Also served as toro in sushi restaurants, Bluefin has become near extinct because of its melt-in-your-mouth texture and unbeatable delicate flavor. But we’ve overdone a good thing, and we’ve overfished these massive, long-lived animals to a point near no return. Choose instead a sushi made from wild-caught salmon, or, truthfully, anything but Bluefin.
To learn more, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website.
image: Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden