I’ve got a little card in my wallet. It’s dwarfed by the sheer number of other little cards in my wallet, and it looks rather thin, small, and insignificant. But open it up, and you’ll find that it has information there that can change the way the world eats. It’s a Seafood Watch card, and it’s something that I wish everyone could have. It’s a simple way to cross-check that the seafood that you’re buying is good for you and for ocean life as well.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the plight of the tuna. This fish is not only used in tuna fish sandwiches, a different variety is also used in sushi. It’s this voracious market for sushi that is determining the fate of the tuna – that, and the way that this fish is caught. In fact, the fishing practices used to catch different fish are critically important, since they determine how selective the fishers can be and how many other fish species are caught by accident.
Seafood Watch is a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but there are regional cards for seafood-lovers around North America. These cards are generally supported and promoted by aquariums and conservation organizations. Interestingly enough, seafood restaurants have also come on board, eager to rebrand their business as a green and ethical business and capture the consumer market that is interested in eating seafood, but only when it has been caught in an ethical manner.
What does it mean to catch fish in an ethical way? Well, seafood that is caught in a sustainable way is caught with methods that involve limited bycatch. This means that the fishery is selective and catches the type and number of fish that they can sell. For example, trolling for fish with a line is often preferable to trawling with a large net, because dragging a large net behind a boat is not particularly selective. Fish caught in traps, by troll and pole or by hook-and-line fishing are often on the “best seafood” list, while fish caught by trawling are often on the “avoid” list. However, the specifics vary by fish species and by area.
What’s on the Seafood Watch green list – the seafood it’s all right to eat? It’s best to download a seafood watch for your particular region, since species at risk and fishing practices vary. Seafood Watch takes many factors into account when creating its lists. These include the vigor of the wild stock, the sustainability of aquaculture practices, the toxins present in different fish, and the way the fish is caught. The sustainability of seafood can be a tricky business. Carry your Seafood Watch card, refer to it often, and update it annually to ensure that you’re eating seafood that’s been grown and caught in an ethical manner.