A Look Into Ethical Fish Choices

By: Ashley Bode

Twenty years has passed and we are still facing the same issues on our plates. In the 1980s consumers boycotted for dolphin-safe fishing and were promised an improvement. Yet, the general public is still unaware of how, where, and at what cost their seafood is caught. Is it time for us to think of fish as animals and not just a category of food?

According to Mark Bittman, Greenpeace is at it again, boycotting canned tuna in efforts to raise awareness and stop fishing done by long-lines and fish aggregating devices (devices that lure big fish, then detect and communicate how many fish are present); both of which have a by-catch rate between 20 and 25 percent. In many cases, the rate at which by-catch occurs depletes stocks rapidly, a statistic that is often unaccounted for when calculating the amount of fish caught in relation to the limits that have been set.

Tuna fishing isn't the only problem. Consider other dining room table favorites: swordfish, shrimp, grouper and cod. (Did you know Cod is considered endangered and in some waters the population is floating at 1% of the population recorded 40 years ago?) Most of these species are overfished and caught with similar methods, or at least methods that are just as destructive.

If by-catch isn't a problem for you, then consider the destruction of the ocean floor. Deep sea or bottom trawling is unfortunately too common when trying to catch bottom dwelling delicacies like squid, shrimp, rockfish, and monkfish. Boats drag a trawl, or large cone-shaped net reaching to the ocean floor, collecting any and all life that is in the way. Trawls specifically are designed to stir up the bottom of the ocean floor, some sinking in more than 15 centimeters, creating a cloud to disguise the netting, but also attract fish through sound. Fish swim towards the netting and eventually tire, getting caught in the back and pulled up. While there is a large amount of by-catch in trawling, they are equally destructive. It has been reported that nearly 95% of ecosystem destruction on the ocean floor is a result of trawling, ruining coral and sea mountains, and disrupting the last uncharted ecosystem.

While nobody should be told what they can and can't eat, there are certainly ways to make yourself more aware of what is considered a friendly catch and what isn't.  A multitude of resources for finding sustainably-caught fish and shellfish are available online and there are several recent books on the state of the fishing industry. Four Fish and Bottom Feeder are two great resources for learning exactly what goes on aboard a rig and the Monterrey Bay Aquarium has been advising consumers for years on what fish are safer to eat than others.  Check out the documentary End of the Line, narrated by Ted Dansen, about the tuna industry in particular. Most people would be shocked to learn more about what they eat, but undoubtedly more confident in their meal choices.

Are Your Fish Choices Ethical?

Photo: garryknight