Volume 13, Issue 33 ~ August 18 - 24, 2005

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Got an Environmental Question? Send it to: EARTH TALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or submit your question at: www.emagazine.com. Or e-mail us at: [email protected].
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Eating Fish to Extinction
I’ve heard that a number of fish available in seafood restaurants are now threatened with extinction. Is this true?

No doubt the age of commercial/industrial fishing, which dawned in the 1950s when large offshore trawlers and at-sea processing facilities first plied the open ocean, has taken its toll on a number of fish species. Atlantic cod, for example, once teemed off the coast of New England and sustained millions of settlers and then immigrants. But populations have been reduced by more than 90 percent in the last half century, and diners would be hard-pressed to find any for sale at restaurants or fish markets these days.

Ocean activists have been working hard to prevent another tragedy on the scale of the Atlantic cod, though several other endangered fish species are still widely available throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. Examples include shark, red snapper, bluefin tuna, wild shrimp, wild sturgeon and orange roughy. Over-fishing, illegal trade, habitat loss and pollution have put these and many other marine species at risk.

On the bright side, some threatened populations are now on the rebound, thanks to efforts to reduce consumption. Chilean sea bass, for example, was all the rage at gourmet eateries in the 1990s. But in just two decades, the average size of individual fish caught dropped by more than 60 percent, meaning that fishermen were taking all the adults, thus capping their reproductive capacity. By getting hundreds of restaurants to stop serving the trendy fish, a coalition called the Seafood Choices Alliance was able to significantly reduce the strain on the species. Similar campaigns are underway now to try to bring the Atlantic swordfish, shark and bluefin tuna back from the brink.

Seafood Choices Alliance also works to educate seafood wholesalers, chefs and consumers about which types of fish consumers can indulge in guilt-free. SCA lists 19 species on its SeaSense Safe List for 2005, including abalone, Dungeness crab, northern pink shrimp, oysters and sablefish. The organization also produces the Sourcing Seafood handbook to help seafood buyers navigate the murky waters of purchasing sustainably harvested seafood.

Meanwhile, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website features Seafood Watch, a free series of guides to help consumers figure out which types of fish are okay to eat. And the company EcoFish sells a wide range of sustainably harvested seafood products to more than 1,000 grocery and natural food stores and to over 150 restaurants nationwide. Consumers can buy EcoFish products directly via the company’s website.

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