It's not a fishy story: Wild seafood is a much more sustainable protein choice than farmed beef, pork or even chicken. But concerns about sustainability have made some consumers leery of digging into their sauteed salmon.
Good news: if you love seafood, things are looking up. Though it's still not safe to say fish stocks are in the clear, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fish populations have bounced back faster than most experts predicted.
The number of fish species listed as overfished has dropped to the lowest level since 1977, according to NOAA. Only 37 stocks of fish in U.S. waters remain on the overfished list—that means 84 percent of fish species in U.S. waters are now at healthy population levels.
NOAA chalks this success up to their sustainable fishing practices—the U.S. is the global leader in fishery management. But what does sustainable fishing mean, exactly?
Long gone are the days where fishermen could take their boats out to sea and catch whatever they wanted. In 2006, Congress passed the Magnuson-Stevens Act and set annual catch limits. By giving each fishing operation an acceptable limit to catch, NOAA essentially spreads the love to all the fishermen in an area.
NOAA has also created catch shares—think of each fish as a stock, and the ocean as the stock market. Similar to catch limits, shares ensure no one fishing operation has a monopoly on a type of seafood, as well as keeping sealife from being overfished.
Longterm overfishing doesn't just cause the prices of seafood to skyrocket—it can actually change the fragile ecosystems in the ocean. As one population of fish shrinks, others will grow, messing with the ocean's biodiversity and throwing the food chain out of whack.
Not sure whether your favorite seafood is overfished or sustainable? Check the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch List. The searchable database will tell you whether that salmon fillet is a "best choice" or you should choose another entree. You can even download the app or print out a consumer guide.
Some seafood options you can choose with no qualms about your environmental impact include:
On the other hand, Seafood Watch encourages U.S. consumers to avoid:
- Imported crab
- Mahi mahi
- Imported squid
- Imported swordfish
- Farmed Atlantic salmon
- Imported shrimp
Another way to manage your environmental impact on sealife—especially if you live near the coast—is to buy locally sourced seafood. Local fish tend to be fresher, and since it's not imported, you'll save the energy it would take to ship.
Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke via Flickr