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Can we all eat fish?

August 10, 2011

Eating seafood these days is twofold: you’ve got your healthy omega 3s and the media telling you to eat a serving of fish at least once a week. You’ve also got activists, celebrities, and media outlets telling you that we’re eating too much fish, specifically the big ones like cod, tuna and salmon and that they are on a path towards extinction. Then there’s the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s list of seafood that’s okay to eat and seafood that you shouldn’t eat that navigates the murky waters between.

Businesses and restaurants like Sam Talbot’s Imperial No. 9 are taking this list to heart and serving “sustainable seafood.” But on the menu is raw tuna so one must question what “sustainable” really means to Talbot. He said in an interview:

“It means not only do I know where the fish I’m using was caught, but I know how it got to my restaurant. I follow it every step of the way.”

a raw tuna entree served at Imperial No. 9

Knowing where your fish comes from, and having food that will allow the population of tuna to remain stable in the future are pretty different things. But anyway, I digress. One of the biggest issues with more people hearing about the health benefits and subsequently eating more fish is that we may not have enough fish for the world’s population. If everyone gets on board with the fact that tuna is a highly stressed population and switches to eating say . . . trout or hake, then the marine balance is upended and that population is in trouble. It seems like a no win situation.

Here’s another example: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has run a pretty successful campaign Fish Fight to get people thinking about fishing practices and wastefulness. In the North Sea, between 40 – 60% of the catch is thrown back dead. In response to this staggering statistic, he is urging people in the UK to change their eating habits to focus more on those species that are considered by-catch to reduce this wastefulness.

One of the unintended consequences though, is that demand for fish in the UK has gone up. People have gained an appetite for not only the big fish, but the smaller less well known as well.

A report from the UN tells us that China also seems to have a growing appetite for fish. So with a population that is set to hit 7 billion, is it plausible that we can continue to eat fish while maintaining healthy, balanced oceans? And what role will aquaculture play? When I peruse the aisles of the grocery store for dinner options, I pass the fish section where I shake my head at the plastic wrapped filets of swordfish, then continue on by the beef and wonder how long it will be before we implement a food system that cultivates seafood in the same way as it does beef, chicken and pork.

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