Talkin’ Seafood: a simple way YOU can help the ocean

By February 26, 2009Sea Turtles

For many people, their most tangible connection to the ocean is through their dinner plate.  Thankfully, many people have learned that their choices of what to eat are not a trivial connection, but are a critical part of restoring the ocean’s health.  With that in mind, one of the most common subjects of emails I receive from our members goes something like this…

“I signed the pledge to not eat tuna and shrimp caught by long line fishery.  Now please tell me, I live no where near an ocean, how do I know how a tuna or shrimp is caught?   (we never see swordfish here)  Is there one brand that I should be watching for, good or bad?


Simple question, right?  Is there a simple answer?

Nope!  The best way to be sure of how a tuna or shrimp is caught is to do it yourself…   Plan B is to ask the market where you buy your fish who they got it from, where it came from, and what fishing methods were used.  Chances are your local market gets it from a seafood distributor and the market doesn’t actually know.  If a market doesn’t know how their fish is caught, avoid it.  If your feeling up to it, tell them you will only buy fish if you know where and how it was caught. But they might, and if they do, take that information and find it on a seafood guide.  Try SeafoodWatch. I would avoid all fish on the yellow and red list and ONLY eat fish listed as green—it’s a good rule of thumb.  Also, fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council is generally “sustainable.”

A quick word about seafood cards… seafood guides attempt to move seafood lovers in the right direction and they are useful.  But to date, no single list incorporates a holistic view that encourages consumers to eat lower on the sea-food chain (for example, small fish and shellfish harvested by acceptable methods), avoid fish with high levels of toxins, and also recognizes that our over-all seafood consumption must be reduced.  To solve the challenges facing our oceans, we need to eat LESS seafood, not just different fish.

You can also look for common fish that has been caught using handheld “hook and line” techniques or harpoon.  For example, in California we have a fishery for small albacore tuna that uses hook-and-line, a method that is practically free of by-catch.  The tuna is small, so it hasn’t accumulated dangerous levels of mercury either.