Something’s fishy

It’s mid-January, the time of year when everyone is determined to keep their New Year’s Resolutions. Most people, however, find it terribly difficult to maintain their resolutions for the entire year.

Maybe it’s because the goals are too broad and general. “I want to be a better person.” “I want to be healthier.” So that’s why this year, I’m setting monthly goals for me to focus on, one at a time.

So what is my resolution for this month? To pay more attention to where my seafood comes from.

I used to go to Costco with my mom, and we’d buy our usual seafood favorites – shrimp, tilapia, salmon – without considering whether they were harvested in sustainable and environmentally-friendly ways. This is true for many people. I believe one reason for this is that the global fisheries crisis has not gotten as much coverage as other environmental problems – say, global warming.  And frankly, big-eyed, scaly fish just aren’t as cute as polar bears.

But our fisheries are suffering. Half of the world’s marine fish populations are fully exploited. Fishermen are having to put more time and effort to get the same size catch as before. In 2006, The New York Times reported on a study claiming all ocean species we fish for today will collapse by the year 2048. ( Though there is much debate on how accurate the study was, it still remains clear that many of the world’s fisheries are not managed sustainably. The industrialization of fishing not only exponentially increased catch rates, but it also brought with it many harmful environmental effects. Many fishing practices kill nontarget species and destroy marine communities.

So what are we as consumers to do? The most important thing we can do is support sustainable fishing practices with our dollars. Not all seafood is created equal.

For example, when we go to a grocery store, we  have a choice between farmed Atlantic salmon and wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Which is the better choice?

Some people may think, as I used to, that farmed salmon is better than wild salmon because it does not deplete the wild salmon populations. 

But actually, Pacific salmon in Alaska is among the most intensively managed species in the world, with excellent monitoring of both the fish populations and fishery. It is one of the best choices you can make when buying seafood.

In contrast, most farmed salmon are raised in open pens and cages in coastal waters. Waste form these farms is released directly in to the ocean, harming wild fish swimming near the farms. Farming salmon also requires a vast amount of food. It takes about three pounds of wild fish to grow just one pound of farmed salmon.

What is difficult for us consumers is that this “wild is better than farmed” rule cannot be applied to all seafood. For example, farmed oysters are better than wild oysters.

So how are we supposed to know all this information about what to buy and what we shouldn’t buy? 

Monterey Bay Aquarium has a wonderful resource, sustainable seafood pocket guides that you can print out and slip into your wallet or purse. Whenever you go shopping, you can just take it out and see what the best choices for seafood are. The guides are divided into three sections, Best Choices, Good Alternatives, and Avoid. For instance, US farmed Tilapia is the best choice, Central America farmed tilapia is a good alternative, and Asia farmed tilapia (most frozen tilapia you see in grocery stores are from Asia) are to be avoided.

To download the seafood guide, visit

Or, if you are a technology person, you can download the free application on your iPhone or iTouch. Just visit the App Store and search for seafood guide. I recently downloaded this application, and I love it!

Yesterday, I went to my local grocery store and scoured the seafood section, this time with my pocket guide in hand. I felt great purchasing US wild-caught shrimp instead of the Asia farmed shrimp my family usually buys.

Just by purchasing fish caught or farmed using environmentally friendly practices, we can easily support healthy, abundant oceans.


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Ming-Yue Zhang said,

    A great information about the seafoods. I will follow your suggestions next time when I go to the grocery stores.

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