Overfishing and Sustainable Seafood

I love fish…I truly do. To me, a chunk of fresh Pacific Halibut grilled over hardwood and enjoyed with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc on a hot summer evening is about as close as it gets to culinary perfection. And, I’m not alone in this. According to this report by Seafood International, Americans have been

sustainable_seafoodeating an average of 15.7 pounds, and according to a report by greenfacts.org, world per capita fish consumption has gone from 21.83 pounds in the 1960s to 36.15 pounds in 2005! Yes, fish consumption is clearly on the rise. However, with this demand for seafood, we are facing serious problems of overfishing and irresponsible consumption.

In a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization called the Sate of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA), the following figures were reported:

  • 52% of fish stocks are fully exploited
  • 20% are moderately exploited
  • 17% are overexploited
  • 7% are depleted
  • 1% is recovering from depletion

If you sum this together, we can see that almost 80% of the world’s fisheries are to some level of exploited. That is to say, we’ve pretty much overfished all of our fish sources. There are a huge number of reasons for this, but the primary reason comes down to lack of fishing management. On the website, overfishing.org, it is suggested that while we are attempting to catch the fish we desire to consume, the entire marine food web, that is, the marine food chain, is being affected. Predominately, this is being affected by what is known as “bycatch”. Bycatch is the term given to anything caught that isn’t intended. Most of the time, this bycatch is simply killed and discarded and it can often reach 80% of the total catch! That means if a fisherman was looking for 200 pounds of Tuna, he would destroy 800 pounds of other marine life! Basically, what will happen here is that we will completely remove all of the desirable fish from the ocean and will only be left with the things we can’t (or wont) want to eat.

While this is only a single example, its easy to see there are significant problems associated with irresponsible fishing practices, but what can we do about it? I don’t know about you, but I’m not a commercial fisherman. I don’t own a fleet of boats. I’m not in charge of marine policy.

But, I do have a fork. And I do have a wallet.

And so do you.

So, what we can do, is to be educated. There are smart ways to consume our 15.7 pounds of seafood each year. There are organizations who are responsibly catching fish, only removing the desired fish and leaving the rest of the Marine ecosystem in tact. There are organizations who are looking to take consumers off of the exploited species and onto more plentiful, but similar species. This really isn’t that difficult to do. For example, according to The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Atlantic Salmon sourced from Scotland is one of the least sustainable types of Salmon, but farmed Atlantic Salmon fromPicture1 places like Canada and the U.S. is one of the best types of seafood you can eat. While this may be a bit difficult to keep track of, there are easy applications for our devices that we can use whenever we’re shopping or ordering from a restaurant. Its not that hard to do, and will certainly make you a little more certain about what you’re getting. Another option is to simply ask. Most grocery stores, fish markets, and restaurants, particularly the higher end ones, will know exactly where the fish came from, if it was harvested using sustainable practices, and what the status of the fish is. If they don’t know, its best not to eat or shop there. Another thing is the fishing type. Line caught and farmed is almost always best, where as netted is always the worst. Yes, you have to pay attention to what you eat, but that’s not a bad thing.

The state of our seafood and our marine ecosystems is dismal. But, we can fix it. There are a huge number of resources to help make great decisions when consuming food. It’s an easy trade. I’d rather do a quick bit of research to find the best alternative to an exploited fish than to have to explain to my children why they’ve never heard of that fish.


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