New York Times Blog: the Seafood Eater’s Conundrum

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P’fish’ers, check out yesterday’s blog in the New York Times about the confusion surrounding seafood consumption. I appreciate the contributors’ opinions and wish they had been given more space to more fully express their thoughts and expertise. I like what Ray Hilborn says about looking for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified seafood…and the problem thus far, that it’s hard to find. Let’s hope the MSC’s work grows and that its label gains recognition. We also look forward to farmed seafood that is certified as “sustainable.”
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Let’s not forget that the planet’s ocean resources are meant to sustain life — the plant and animal life both within the ocean as well as all of the land-dwelling creatures including us hungry humans. We ALL depend upon a vibrant, life-sustaining ocean.
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I made a comment in response to the blog (it’s #129 on a growing list). Click here if you want to check it out…or it’s written out below, having fixed my little typos.
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The NY Times blog is a follow-up to an article posted yesterday by food writer, seafood lover and fellow confused consumer Mark Bittman. And, Mark, we feel your pain.
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Here’s my response to the “conundrum” blog:
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This opinion piece has sparked a lot of dialogue — as well as contradictory viewpoints and conflicting information. I don’t think the article as presented could come close to the complexity of what is “sustainable seafood.” The contributors were given little space to write, and the piece doesn’t cover all-important considerations such as seasonality, provenance, quality, taste, and price.
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The concept of ’sustainability’ needs to take into account economic, social, and ecological factors. If not, the concept will never gain acceptance. That’s why people are getting confused about (or simply disregard, as depicted above by various comments) the many recommendations one is supposed to follow. Meanwhile, the recommendations vary wildly and are coming from all angles: from the government, seafood companies, and environmental groups. None of these entities are 100% on the same page — and even within sectors — there is vast disagreement. So those of us who want to eat seafood are stuck between a rockfish and a hard place.
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Our nonprofit, Passionfish, is run by volunteers who have spent the past decade trying to sort out this “conundrum.” Still, it’s as if the issue has not necessarily gained much clarity for consumers.
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We hear that almost all the fish are gone. But, we hear we can still eat some of them. So, we look at all of the data from the news, our doctors, our grocery stores, our iPhones and cause-related mailing lists. We hear, for the most part (as it’s filtered through these sources) that “aquaculture is BAD”; but, at the same time, we hear about mercury, contaminant, etc. problems in the wild fish.
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We also witness that wild fish are expensive. That farmed seafood is more affordable. We hear that seafood is still the healthiest source of animal protein to eat, that it’s a “lean” source of protein, and that it contains heart-and-brain-healthy Omega 3s (essential fatty acids). These are the thoughts passing through our minds as we shop for seafood, for our meat choices for the week.
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I believe the Marine Stewardship Council, as mentioned by Ray Hilborn, is an organization we should champion. It’s true that they have so far certified only a fraction of the wild seafood products in the marketplace.
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But, the MSC is making great progress. We should support their work and hope their label gains acceptance and recognition.
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We also need a trusted certifier for sustainably raised farmed seafood products. Why do we need these certifiers? Sadly, it’s because people do not trust the government recommendations and regulations — even though, as mentioned in the posts above, the United States has among the toughest regulations. Truth is, people do not trust any single source of recommendations, not the business/seafood industry alone, not environmental groups alone, and not our government. Oh, and we don’t trust the media, either.
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Collaboration between and among government agencies, scientists, seafood companies, fishing and aquaculture practitioners, and environmental groups MUST occur for people to buy into or trust a claim of sustainability. Let’s not forget the critical input by nutritionists and economists — it’s a fact that people make their food choices based on three primary criteria: price, taste, and quality. Sustainability as a word or concept means little to most people.
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A note about the wild vs farmed issue: The rich will be able to eat wild-caught seafood (and farmed seafood called “artisan-raised”). The poor and so-called “middle class” in our country and around the world will not. If the dire predictions are true about the demise of the ocean’s wild species, wild fish will be coveted and savored by the rich as a delicacy, the way caviar is marketed (and, so, wild salmon). The rest of us will eat cake.
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To me, that’s a tragedy. The world’s ocean resources are not just for the rich to enjoy. They are meant to sustain life.

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