There are very few things more refreshing than being wrist deep in a plate of freshly served seafood, almost as if you were floating underwater in the ocean yourself, surrounded by all manners of sea creatures and brightly illuminated coral reefs. But before you tack on a bib and go to town on this lifeless delicacy, it may behoove you to know where your seafood comes from and whether you're endangering an already endangered species, because the phrase "there's plenty of fish in the sea" is starting to lose its meaning with the lack of awareness. Since many folks are in the dark as to what's at stake on their dinner plate, we're here as your safe, sustainable seafood guide, so that if you're eating seafood, you're eating it right.
Just as vegans and vegetarians alike are against the consumption of meaty animals, such as cows and pigs, for both personal and health-related reasons, there's also an unconscious threat to the world's sea life due to a commonly overlooked problem called "overfishing." The problem here is that the awareness level ranks very low for sea life compared to that of the everyday vegetarian.
The idea of overfishing stems from the illegal catching and consumption of fish at a rate faster than they can even reproduce. The reality is that sea life, mainly bigger fish like swordfish, halibut and blue fin tuna, are nearing the extinction phase after disappearing in our oceans by 75 to 90 percent already. Most people think there's plenty of fish in the sea, but at the rate of overfishing, that will no longer be the case in the decades to come.
The National Sustainable Seafood Guide of 2011 points out the differences between smart, okay and bad choices when it comes to ordering your seafood, and although we'd like to think that most seafood restaurants have the oceans' best interests in mind, it's actually the opposite, as some offer rare treats, which is slang for endangered.
The smart seafood choices are the abundant, well-managed and healthy fish that are captured in environmentally sound ways, as opposed to the bad choices, which are overfished outside of legal fishing territories that harm several types of sea life in its process. Picture a big net with little holes trawling the ocean floor for a specific type of fish, picking up millions of unwanted fish that are killed off or discarded just because they don't match the description of the catch of the day.
Smart seafood choices include a long list of great U.S. farmed fish we can enjoy, like lobster (spiny), wild salmon and tilapia. Bad choices include fish that are illegally caught outside of fishing territories that are already endangered, such as imported mahi mahi, orange roughy and imported shrimp.
If you've ever dove below the sea level for quick scuba or snorkel, you no doubt took the time to appreciate just how majestic and breathtaking such a sight can be, and in all likelihood, you weren't spending that time staring into the eyes of an endangered mammal thinking about how much you'd like to see it pointlessly suffer.
Mixed with our filthy habits of plastic pollution in our oceans, overfishing is just another effective method for removing a privileged delicacy from our everyday lives. There's nothing wrong with enjoying food that the sea offers, as long as it's not irresponsible. Sustainable seafood consumption is the only way that we can undo some of the damage, but if we continue to badly consume at the rate we've been going, our children won't know that refreshing, wrist-deep sensation we salivate over.
Quickly check with the National Sustainable Seafood Guide (opens in a PDF) or download a free Seafood Watch app to see if you're adding to the problem so you can fix it. If you're not sure about your seafood, just ask your seafood provider where it comes from. Finally, here are a few delicious seafood recipes to get you headed in the right direction on your own:
Sustainable Salmon Patties
Halibut Tostadas with Yogurt-Lime Sauce
Argentine Scallop Quesadillas