Catching On

If you take Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World” concept to heart than it’s not a stretch to believe that the health of the oceans is directly connected to the way we catch, farm and eat seafood. Fish too much, the food goes away. Eat a fish tonight that took decades to reach maturity and pretty soon that favorite meal is no longer available.

A new report from Monterey Bay Aquarium notes that a boat load of scientific studies show that despite the gigantic expanse of the Earth’s oceans, they’re increasingly affected by human activities. The aquarium’s marine scientists say most commercially important populations of ocean wildlife have been in decline for decades. Food webs are weakening and marine habitats are being altered and degraded. While many human activities strain the marine environment, scientists say the primary factor in the oceans’ decline is our demand for seafood.

Love lobster? It takes six to eight years to reach marketable size. Average time it takes to eat one – about a half hour, if you’re being polite. Pacific lingcod eight and 10 years to mature, while spiny dogfish sharks often served as English-style fish and chips take 20 years to reach harvestable size. Beluga sturgeons, which take up to 20 years to reach maturity and can live to be 100, produce caviar (fish eggs) that sells for as much as $3,000 to $5,000 a pound. But don’t worry about the price. Over fishing, poaching and an active black market have about wiped out the species.

Throughout the world, total landings of wild-caught fish have been declining and now scientists are zeroing in on chowder houses. The idea is that consumers need to know what they’re ordering when they order “fish.” Some are farmed, some are tightly controlled in terms of catch, and some are the bounty of species that in the coming decades may no longer exist.

So, what’s a hungry seafood lover to do? I mean wasn’t buying dolphin-safe tuna enough? No, the answer is simple mindfulness. The folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, as well as many others offer pocket guides to ordering sustainably harvested fish, all tasty and good for you. And, like me, when you do break down and order grilled swordfish, know that the supply is not endless.

But, the experts say there are new signs of hope — we appear to have reached a turning point. On many fronts, new data point to a brighter future thanks to the actions of informed consumers, businesses, fishermen, fish farmers and governments. Through better science and monitoring, we understand more fully the effects that fisheries and aquaculture have on the marine environment. In several regions of the world, proactive fisheries management is preventing overfishing and allowing marine ecosystems to recover.

Here, here, and please – pass the tartar sauce!

Factoid: 900,000 – Metric tons of wasted fish – 28% of the annual catch gets tossed overboard because they are not the desired species.

Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch online at

Published by Kate Campbell

Writer, editor, photographer, novelist, short story writer, poet.

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