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Choosing Sustainable Seafood - Seafood Choices That Are Good for the Environment


Raw salmon sashimi and chopsticks
PhotoStock-Israel/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Do you love seafood but worry about the environmental impacts of what you’re eating? There can be a big difference in the ways the same species is caught. A swordfish caught with hook and line, for instance, has less impact than one caught with a longline, which can impact other species caught as bycatch. But it can be difficult to learn about the fish you’re eating, as there is not always information available at stores and restaurants to tell you where a fish was caught and how.

The best way to consume seafood is by knowing where the fish you eat has come from, and weighing the potential impacts. This is a very subjective process - some people would state that no seafood is sustainable, while some would argue that sustainable seafood guides are wrong and poorly updated. Below is an overview of some places where you can learn more about seafood and the impacts of fishing.

Sustainable Seafood Guides (Online and Wallet Versions):

Several organizations have taken it upon themselves to make us all more informed. Here are some ways you can learn more about seafood choices and what you need to know to ask the right questions when you purchase, whether it’s at the grocery store, a fish market or in a restaurant.

There are many sustainable seafood guides out there, many available both online and in a printable wallet-sized format. One is that offered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program:

Monterey Bay Aquarium offers both an online seafood guide and a printable version. Click on a species and you’ll find its rating and the reasoning behind it, different market names, and information on where and how it’s caught.

This site also has region-specific guides (great for traveling!), such as guides for the Northeast, West Coast, Southeast, and Hawaii. For those interested in more information on the fishing methods, you can learn about those and see videos of the gear in action in the seafood gear types section of the web site.

There’s also a sushi guide, again organized into user-friendly best-to-worst alternatives.

Another option is to log onto seafoodwatch.org on your mobile phone, and you’ll be taken to a pocket guide automatically.

Blue Ocean Institute’s Seafood Guide:

Blue Ocean Institute also has user-friendly online and printable guides.

The species are color-coded with little red, yellow and green fish icons to guide you in your seafood choice. You can also view a full list of ocean-friendly sushi. There’s also a Seafood FAQ that answers questions about finding the best seafood, and how to approach the waiter at your favorite restaurant.

Certified Fisheries:

The Marine Stewardship Council has certified sustainable fisheries, although this came under fire in April 2013 with a study that said that the Marine Stewardship Council was certifying fisheries that were not sustainable, a statement that the MSC objected to.

The Bottom Line - Can You Really Make a Difference?:

These guides are a way to encourage you to ask questions about where your food comes from, and how healthy it is for both you and the ocean.

What’s on the restaurant menu and at the fish counter in the supermarket is based on consumer preferences. So if you ask for better seafood alternatives and spread the word amongst other seafood lovers, you can make a difference in the health of the oceans, and just might find a new favorite seafood in the process.

What Do You Think?:

If you’ve tried these guides, please let me know what you think. Do you know other guides out there that should be written up here? Feel free to e-mail me .

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