It’s impossible to write a blog right now about seafood and not mention the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that’s bringing attention to the interconnectedness of the health of our oceans and the way we make a living on our planet.
I feel culpable. As a consumer I’m using gas in my car, petroleum-based products in my every day life. I expect my keyboard (in a previous life) was once making a living in our oceans. Ironic perhaps, given that it’s generating words to protect today’s sea life.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program helps consumers make choices for healthy oceans. But many are now asking us, what if the seafood we enjoy is extracted from polluted, oiled waters?
It’s a huge concern for everyone in the environmental community, not to mention, of course, the people and industry that make their livelihood from these fisheries whose futures are now so uncertain.
The Gulf of Mexico is a highly productive region, and produces nearly 60% of U.S. oysters and 75% of U.S. wild shrimp. Both of these items are Seafood Watch “Good Alternatives,” and we recommend that if you see these for sale, you can do your part to help the Gulf economy by making a purchase.
New Seafood Testing in the Gulf
This week, the federal government has announced a new program of testing and monitoring of Gulf seafood. Part of this will ensure that closure areas are being observed, the other will test the safety of seafood for human consumption.
At this stage, testing will center on shellfish – crabs, shrimp and oysters – as scientists believe these creatures are more likely to accumulate toxins from oil than will fish.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium scientists will be carefully following the situation as it unfolds in the Gulf, and we will continue to work with our colleagues in the Gulf States, as well as our partners at Environmental Defense Fund who provide us with the contaminant data for the species on our pocket guides. Any new information will be available on our website.
Risks to Already Endangered Tuna
Another situation we’re following carefully with our colleagues is the added danger to Atlantic bluefin tuna. This imperiled species, already on the brink of commercial extinction due to overexploitation, now faces a new challenge. At this time of year, the populations that ordinarily mix in the feeding grounds across the entire Atlantic basin separate out to breed and spawn. The spawning grounds for the western Atlantic population? That’s right; you guessed it, the Gulf of Mexico. Tracking data show some of those mature tuna right now in the area of the spill.
It’s probably too soon to know what the impact of this might be. Earlier this year this “king of the sea” failed to gain protection at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The proposal to list this species on Appendix I, which would have banned international trade and therefore effectively closed down fishing to give the bluefin chance to recover, failed to gain enough votes.
To put it simply, this species is just too valuable. On occasion, bluefin tuna have reached prices over $100,000 — for a single fish! It is not in the interest of the fishery to stop looking for this elusive prize. In my lifetime, I could witness the death of the last wild bluefin tuna.
Consumers Can Help
Most of the worlds’ bluefin is exported to Japan. But that’s not to say you can’t find it on offer in sushi bars in the U.S. Despite the fact that for environmentalists it’s been the poster child for overfishing for at least 20 years, still too few consumers have heard that message. Please help spread the word.
Say no to bluefin tuna, sold as toro or hon maguro. Look for shiro maguro – albacore tuna instead, preferably caught by single hook and line or troll-caught in the U.S. Or try something you’ve never tasted before. Let your sushi chef know you’re looking for sustainable choices, and why it matters to you. We can vote with our wallets for change.
Alison Barratt is Associate Communications Manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Alison Barratt, Monterey Bay Aquarium