There are only so many fish in the ocean.
Fishing practices worldwide are damaging our oceans—depleting fish populations, destroying habitats and polluting the water.
Earlier this year, the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association took a big step towards dealing with destructive fishing and fish farming practices by implementing restrictions to commercial and recreational fishing throughout the US, setting fishing limits for every species of fish it oversees.
As informed consumers, we can also help turn the tide of those bad practices.
Like many pescatarians, I always carry the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch pocket guide with me when I am shopping for fish or dining out. Here are just four of my favorites from their recommendations for fish that are caught or farmed sustainably, so they are good for people and for our planet.
1. Sockeye Salmon: I have loved sockeye salmon ever since my son went salmon fishing in Alaska, and came back with many pounds of this delicious treat. There are several species of salmon native to the Pacific coast of North America but, as Nourishing The Planet explains, the sockeye salmon, especially in Alaska, is a prime example of the impact that close regulation can have on managing populations in a fishery. The numbers of spawning salmon are tightly monitored as they migrate upstream; their habitats are generally protected; fish are caught in moderate-impact ways, principally gillnets and purse seines; and the catch numbers are restricted by Alaskan regulations. Sockeye salmon from Alaska rank as a very sustainable option.
2. Sardines: The term “sardine” applies to a number of small fish species related to herrings, the best known of which is the Pacific Sardine. Sardines are rich in nutrients, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and calcium. Pacific sardines once supported one of the largest and most profitable fisheries in the US, but by the late 1940s the fish were virtually gone. Although overfishing likely contributed to this, the dramatic decrease was later found to be part of a natural “boom and bust” cycle, which occurs in Pacific sardine populations every 30 to 40 years when a change in water temperature and oceanic conditions favors either sardines or anchovies. Now Pacific sardines have made a comeback, which is good news for those of us who enjoy this tasty treat. However, because of ineffective management and overfishing, we should stay away from Atlantic sardines.
3. Alaska Pollock: Pollock is a member of the cod family, and Alaska pollock (also called walleye) is the largest fishery in the United States. There have been concerns over the past decade, but Alaska pollock populations are generally considered stable. The stocks are strictly controlled by Alaskan catch quotas and by the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Pollock Resources in the Central Bering Sea, which was signed by most North Pacific nations. The Bering Sea pollock fishery was recertified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council in 2010, and has been used as an example of how even large-scale fishing can be managed in environmentally sustainable ways. On the other hand, avoid Atlantic cod, from Canada or the US.
4. Tilapia: I love cooking this mild, white fish, but it’s important to know where your tilapia comes from. Make sure that you purchase tilapia that has been farmed in the US, where closed inland systems guard against escapes and pollution. Tilapia farmed in Central and South America is a good alternative, but never buy farmed tilapia from China and Taiwan, where pollution and weak management are widespread problems. Tilapia is an important source of protein and is a good candidate for farming, as it provides more protein than it takes to raise it. This is in contrast to some other fish raised in farms, such as salmon or tuna.
Enjoy your dinner, knowing that you are supporting healthy, abundant oceans!
Photo Credit: Markus Studer