Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The difficult question of sustainable seafood

It seems like I got the seafood show posts started on a nice controversial note. Before I make more people upset, I'd like to clarify my position on environmental issues. I am just as confused about these questions as most home cooks. I want to learn more about how my choice at the fish market effects the survival of different species. I think this issue is very complex. I don't want to make sacrifices just to feel like a good person who cares about the environment. Guilting me into giving up fish doesn't work, but I am more than willing to listen to data.

What I like about NOAA's Fish Watch site is that it's more up to date than Monteray Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch (the site I see quoted the most for environmental issues). If I remember correctly, Monteray Bay Aquarium kept swordfish and striped bass on the "avoid" list for quite some time after the stocks have recovered. Also, NOAA's site doesn't ask consumers to make choices based on information that's not available to them. For example, Monteray Bay aquarium's site suggests that big-eye tuna caught by troll/pole would be a good alternative, but caught by longline should be avoided. I've tried asking my fishmongers about how the tuna I am buying were caught and no one seemed to be able to give me those answers. If capture method makes a difference, wouldn't it be more effective to regulate capture methods or at least requires fish industry to label fish with their capture method? Without this data, there is really not much a consumer can do to make an informed decision.

I sometimes get angry reader comments on this blog suggesting that my recipes for monkfish or tuna can promote overfishing. Somehow I highly doubt that this blog has such a strong influence. I am not an authority on the environment, so I don't want to tell you want to eat or not to eat, but I hope that the information on this site can help people become more seafood savvy. It's hard to make environmentally sound decisions when you don't understand the difference between Cod (very overfished in the Atlantic) and Black Cod (marketing name for Sable from Alaska whose stocks are healthy); or between Yellowfin, Big-eye, and Bluefin tuna; or how to substitute one fish for another without compromising the taste. I hope this site helps you eat whatever seafood meets your ethics standards, not whatever seafood meets my ethics standards.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I think you've been doing a good job. I'm a huge proponent of "give people all the information they need and the tools to learn, and let them make their own decisions". Information and staying up to date is key.