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Fish for the future: Oceans face depletion unless changes are made

by the Fish Site Editor
20 June 2007, at 1:00am

US - While there has been much talk about the importance of supporting sustainable and organic produce, the public is just beginning to come around to the idea of sustainability, aquatically speaking, writes Jennifer Olvera.

The problem is, statistics say, if we don't start making responsible choices regarding seafood consumption soon, the outlook is bleak.

"The journal Science published a study last November saying that by the year 2048, we will be out of seafood," said Michelle Jost, conservation programs manager for the Shedd Aquarium, which actively promotes the import of sustainable seafood-eating to the general public, foodservice industry and wholesale fish market.

The same study -- which resulted from collaborative data from 14 researchers from the United States, Canada, Panama, Sweden and England -- also stated that, as of 2003, 29 percent of the species we consume already have collapsed to, at minimum, 90 percent below their utmost catch levels. Add that to the fact that the loss of ocean biodiversity is rapidly increasing.

Certainly, some scientists disagreed with the study," Jost admitted. "But that's when the media [as a whole] really started to pick up on the idea of sustainability. For example, Bon Appetit listed it as a top food trend for 2007."

"I think the reality is people need to do their own research about what they eat because there is a lot of bad info out there," said Bill Dugan, owner of wholesaler Superior Ocean Produce, occasional restaurant Wellfleet and The Fishguy Market. "But I am a staunch environmentalist, and I don't think the oceans, streams, lakes and rivers are always managed well."

Popularity also is to blame for decreasing fish populations. Over-fishing happens when consumers, frankly, get stuck in a rut. One way around that is to increase awareness of the problem.

For the last eight years, the Shedd has been promoting its Right Bite program, which seeks to inform the public about the habitat destruction taking place in the world of fishing as well as discuss concerns about over-fishing, the danger of accidental catching and the danger of aquaculture-fish farming -- which can pollute the waters with raw sewage -- when responsible measures are not taken. It also does this through exhibitions and special dining events with restaurateurs.

By definition, "sustainable" means selecting fish species that are plentiful and caught or farmed in eco-friendly ways, which is to say the fishery or fisherman avoids unwanted catches that are, in turn, dumped back into the ocean dead or near-dead. The question is, how do you find out about what is, and isn't acceptable these days?

For one thing, the Shedd supplies consumers with a Right Bite wallet card, which color codes species by "best" (green), "good alternatives" (yellow) and "avoid" (red) so diners can make informed decisions when eating out. (To download it, visit www.sheddaquarium.org/rightbite.html.)

"We keep hearing from chefs that if customers want a certain kind of fish, they feel they must supply it," Jost said. "But there are a lot of alternatives. If people ask whether a restaurant is serving Atlantic or Pacific halibut, and they aren't serving sustainable Pacific, they need to let the server know they're ordering something else for that reason. It will get back to the manager and chef."

Keeping yourself informed, Jost said, is the best ammunition. To do so, consumers can use published studies from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp)and the London-based Marine Stewardship Council (www.msc.org, which certifies fisheries as sustainable. Another outlet is the National Fisheries Institute site, www.aboutseafood.com.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

the Fish Site Editor