Something Fishy in the Desert

Worldwide, the popularity of seafood is growing. In the U.S., seafood consumption is up almost 30 percent from 25 years ago. The average person eats more than 16 pounds of seafood per year, with shrimp, canned tuna, and salmon being our favorites.  This makes the U.S. a major stakeholder in the seafood industry.

The amount of seafood we consume annually is equal to the weight of 270,000 Hummer H2 sport utility vehicles. Eating all that seafood might not be the best thing for people, for the planet, or for profit.
(Source: Food & Water Watch).

Even in landlocked areas, such as New Mexico, Americans eat seafood. In Albuquerque alone, roughly 20 restaurants fit into the “seafood” category. In addition, dozens more have fish, shrimp or other seafood dishes on their menus. The city has almost two dozen sushi restaurants, “fast” seafood chains (such as Long John Silver’s and Captain D’s), and myriad other outlets that serve fish, like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic and Blake’s Lotaburger.

Though the foodservice industry serves about 70 percent of our seafood, New Mexicans also purchase and cook seafood at home. As well as a few markets that specialize in seafood, most grocery stores in the region, from Albertons to Walmart, sell seafood.

Wild Alaskan Salmon = “Best Choice”
Source: SeafoodWatch

Things to Consider
While seafood is a popular choice, fish lovers need to consider the sustainability issues associated with their choices. According to Greenpeace (UK), “a particular seafood is sustainable if it comes from a fishery with practices that can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the target species’ ability to maintain its population.” Another defining element is that the fishery practices must not affect another species in the ecosystem. This could happen by removing a food source, damaging the environment, or accidentally killing another species.

Key issues associated with non-sustainable seafood include overfishing, human health issues, and a rising reliance on aquaculture. Currently, 75 percent of fish populations are “fully or over exploited” ( PDF).  To keep up with demand, close to half of the world’s seafood is now produced through aquaculture, which has its own sustainability issues. Almost 80 percent of U.S. seafood is imported. Much of this seafood is produced on crowded and unsanitary industrial-style farms, calling for the use of antibiotics and chemicals to keep bacteria and disease at bay. Despite these measures, seafood products cause approximately 18 to 20 percent of the U.S. cases of food-borne illness each year (Food & Water Watch).

U.S. Farmed Shrimp = “Best Choice”
Source: SeafoodWatch

Your Actions Count
Choosing to buy and to eat only sustainable seafood does make a difference.  Through the combination of consumer pressure, global fishery monitoring, and legislation, some types of seafood have rebounded and are now considered “sustainable.” The Environmental Defense Fund cites several species that used to be “Eco-worst” choices that are now “Eco-ok,” or even “Eco-best choices,” such as U.S. farmed shrimp.

Source: Carting Away the Oceans, Greenpeace USA, 2011

What You Can Do

  • Speak your mind. Tell your seafood merchant that you are concerned about sustainable seafood.
  • Know the facts. Familiarize yourself with the issues and which seafood items to avoid. Refuse to compromise.
  • Vote with your dollar. Reward seafood merchants that make sustainable choices.
  • Eat less fish. Today’s demand for seafood far outstrips what can be delivered from sustainable sources.

General Sustainable Seafood Resources:

Sustainable Sushi:

New Mexico Local:

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