As we approach World Oceans Day, which is a time to celebrate our oceans and conservation, it is important to know that what we take out of our oceans is just as important as what we are preventing from going into them. Keeping our oceans healthy can be as simple as the choice we make on the menu at our favorite seafood restaurant. By making sustainable seafood choices, we can protect endangered fish populations, thus helping them rebuild and protect the future of our oceans.
Sustainable seafood is defined as seafood that is either caught or farmed in ways that consider the long-term vitality of harvested species and the well-being of the oceans, as well as the livelihoods of the fisheries dependent communities, according to Wikipedia. Over-fishing and the over-consumption of certain fish species are a huge cause of the decline of wild fish populations. Halibut and yellowtail flounder have been on the IUCN red list for many years. The cod has shown little evidence of recovery after more than 20 years and the bluefin tuna is now at 4% of its original size and the decline will go on. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council one-third of global fish populations are overexploited and dangerously depleted due to overfishing. Meanwhile, "mercury levels in fish are extremely high-and getting higher-due in large part to all the coal we burn". The worst fish choices you can make include the abalone, cod, bluefin tuna, spiny lobster, orange roughy and shark. Shark fin soup is a huge delicacy at many restaurants, but millions of sharks are killed each year just for their fins. By being a conscious consumer and avoiding these fish, the demand will go down and the fish populations will have the chance to rebuild themelves. The type of fishing gear used can also effect the fish populations, as dredges and trawls can scrape across the seafloor and destroy the entire area, much like clear-cutting a forest.
Choosing farmed fish can be a good choice, as long as the practices of the fish being farmed are sustainable. When good fish farming practices are used, it is possible to farm fish with very little impact on the environment. True sustainable operations minimize environmental impacts like pollution, disease and other damage to coastal ecosystems on which wild species depend. They also avoid using wild-caught fish as feed; a practice that puts enormous additional stress on wild fish stocks.
One solution that is giving hope to our oceans is aquaculture. Aquaculture is the practice of fish or shellfish farming. The aquaculture fisheries hatch and raise the fish until they are market size, which gives the chance for wild populations to rebuild without the threat of overfishing. Also, many chefs, restaurants and grocery stores are following sustainable seafood guidelines. One of the best things you can do when you dine out is to ask your server if the seafood they serve is sustainable. Be sure to also use this sustainable seafood guide to make the right choice: http://www.seafoodwatch.org/seafood-recommendations/consumer-guides. If you live outside of the United States, you might find this website helpful: http://wwf.panda.org/how_you_can_help/live_green/out_shopping/seafood_guides/
The future of our oceans is in our hands and together we can help fish populations thrive and be around for generations to come.
*Photos used with permission