Author Archives: Tim Fitzgerald

From ‘Avoid’ to ‘Enjoy’: West Coast Groundfish Completes Sustainability Sweep

© Monterey Bay Aquarium

© Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, considered by many to be the ultimate arbiter of sustainability for the U.S. seafood market, has released five new reports on the West Coast groundfish fishery. In these new assessments they concluded that almost 40 types of rockfish, sole and other fish species – representing virtually all groundfish caught on the West Coast – are now considered sustainable seafood choices.

This announcement comes on the heels of another sustainability milestone for this fishery. Just two months ago, a large portion of the same fishery was also certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.

This was not always the case. The fishery was declared a federal disaster in 2000. After years of overfishing and declining productivity, the fishing industry began working with Environmental Defense Fund experts and federal regulators to design a new management system that better aligned the interests of fishermen and fish populations. Read More »

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West Coast Groundfish Get Certified Sustainable: A Local Fishery Success Story

 

Pacific rockfish (Photograph by NOAA FishWatch)

Pacific rockfish (Photograph by NOAA FishWatch)

[Re-posted with permission from National Geographic]


Last year I had the privilege of sharing some good news from the sustainable seafood world, that the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery had finally shed its perpetual red list status. Today I get to do something similar, by applauding the U.S. West Coast Groundfish IFQ Trawl Fishery for its landmark turnaround and the announcement by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that they have certified 13 species to their standards for sustainable fishing.  

In their announcement, MSC noted that the West Coast Groundfish IFQ Trawl Fishery is “the most diverse, complex fishery ever to enter assessment against the MSC standard anywhere in the world.” The fishery includes west coast favorites like sablefish and petrale sole, along with first-of-their-kind species in the MSC program like lingcod, thornyheads, and several varieties of Pacific rockfish.

 

The MSC’s 400-page Final Report highlights several strengths of the West Coast Groundfish Trawl Fishery, which include:

  • The strong link between [stock] assessments and management actions
  • The management plan establishes individual accountability on the part of fishermen and delivers more complete data for fishery managers
  • Sensitive habitats are protected in areas of “essential fish habitat,” and additional areas deemed off-limits to bottom trawls
  • The management system is transparent and open to the public
  • The catch share program provides incentives for sustainable fishing Read More »

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The quest for sustainable seafood has never been easier

Photo credit: Rick Moonen/RM Seafood

Photo credit: Rick Moonen/RM Seafood

If you love seafood, the six weeks between Mardi Gras and Easter is likely one of your favorite times of the year. It doesn’t hurt that restaurants, fish markets and grocery stores are awash with Lenten promotions, resulting in the most profitable period for seafood sales.

So why not use this time to get out of your comfort zone?  Put down the tuna and salmon and try something new; the seafood market has an abundance of options.   Additionally, consumers are seeking out local and sustainable seafood like never before, representing some of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry for the past several years.

But which fish are the best to buy? Tools like EDF’s mobile  Seafood Selector and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app are great ways to have sustainable seafood recommendations at your fingertips. Some fish pundits like Chef Alton Brown – host of Good Eats and other programs on the Food Network – go so far as to encourage consumers to ignore all the labels and just “Buy American.” In the absence of definitive information, this might be your best option. However, it’s usually a good bet that your fishmonger or server can tell you where their fish is from. Read More »

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I’ll Have the Gulf Red Snapper, Please

Fresh Red Snapper

Gulf Red Snapper

[This was originally posted in National Geographic's Ocean Views Blog]

I’m thrilled to report that Gulf of Mexico red snapper got a little less “red” today. That’s because our partners at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program – the most well-known sustainable seafood program in the United States – announced that they’ve removed the commercial fishery for Gulf of Mexico red snapper from their ‘Avoid’ list and awarded them a new ‘Good Alternative’ rating.

While there are still improvements to be made in this fishery, let’s take a minute to appreciate how much progress has been made in the last few years. Gulf of Mexico red snapper used to be a poster child for unsafe, wasteful fishing. In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s the fishery was ruled by derby seasons where fishermen raced to catch as much fish as possible a few days every month. This had tremendous consequences for both fish and fishermen, as quality and profitability suffered and the red snapper population dwindled.

Fortunately, fishermen, managers and conservationists finally recognized the severity of the problem and decided to get the fishery back on track. In 2007, an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program, coupled with a scientifically set catch limit, was implemented that put Gulf red snapper on the road to recovery. Since then, rebuilding red snapper populations have supported a 70% increase in fishing quotas, waste of marketable fish has declined by about 50%, and fishermen earn 33% more per pound of fish landed. Commercial fishing seasons now last the full year, and the sector demonstrates strong compliance with its catch limit. These same fishermen even pioneered an innovative new traceability program after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that tracks every single fish back to the boat that caught it. Read More »

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How Sustainable is your Supermarket’s Seafood Case?

sustainability rankings of seafood retailers 2013

ImageCredit: Greenpeace, from "Carting Away the Oceans 2013" Report

Last week, Greenpeace USA released the seventh edition of their popular Carting Away the Oceans report, which ranks the sustainable seafood performance of the nation’s 20 largest supermarket chains. Industry leaders like Wegmans (a former EDF partner on salmon and shrimp sourcing), Whole Foods and Safeway once again scored in the top five, while Winn Dixie, Publix and Supervalu perennially find themselves at the bottom of the rankings.

This year’s report places extra emphasis on the ways that these companies approach pressing conservation policy issues, such as the approval of genetically-modified salmon, the advancement of industry-wide seafood traceability, and catch methods for canned tuna. Read More »

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Seafood Selector helps you have your hake (and eat it too)

Environmental Defense Fund recently released the latest version of its popular Seafood Selector, a tool to help make consumers aware of critical ocean conservation issues through the fish that they and their families eat. Today I want to take a moment to remember what life was like in 2001, when our first version came out as a small black-and-white paper cutout in the organization's quarterly member newsletter. (I know it’s hard to believe, but most people still received their environmental news by snail mail back in those days).

Back then, most people still didn’t have cell phones, and those that did just kept them in their gloveboxes for emergencies. I was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, studying shark ecology and physiology. Even as a young marine biologist, I was largely unaware of the impacts of our personal choices on the health of the oceans.

Raising consumer awareness of ocean conservation issues was no easy task 12 years ago – and is still a challenge today – given the complexity of how most fish makes it to our plates. For example, here are some interesting facts you might not know about the U.S. seafood market: Read More »

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Support American Fishermen: Fish for a different dish

monkfish

Photo Credit: Nate Gray/flickr
Monkfish, aka American goosefish, eats way better than it looks.

When it comes to seafood, we  are creatures of narrow habit. The average American eats about 15 pounds of seafood each year  (well below the global average for coastal nations), almost 60% of which is either shrimp, canned tuna or salmon. That number jumps to more than 80% if you include "whitefish" like pollock, tilapia and cod.

So when one of these few items becomes overfished, too expensive or less available, the market usually just tries to pass off some other species in its place.

For example, 20 years ago, no one knew what a slimehead or American goosefish was. But when Atlantic cod fisheries crashed, low-value orange roughy and monkfish slowly gained in popularity and are now staples on restaurant menus – even though most people have no idea what the actual fish look like. What started out as worthless bycatch (also known as trash fish) that usually got dumped overboard will now routinely run you $10/lb or more in the market.

Unfortunately, Atlantic cod populations off New England are actually faring even worse today. We recently learned thatfishing quotas for 2013 will be slashed by almost 80% in certain areas compared to last year. There are several factors at play, among them decades of intense fishing pressure, ecosystem shifts and climate change. Nevertheless, we should still support New England fishermen by purchasing what little local cod makes it to market in 2013.

But how can we ensure that this iconic fishery – and others like it on the Pacific coast – don’t disappear quietly in the night? Our experience with orange roughy and monkfish provides one important answer: Previously unfamiliar fish can win the hearts of seafood lovers and help strengthen local fisheries. Read More »

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EDF and Stony Brook University Publish Most Comprehensive Database of Mercury Levels in U.S. Seafood to Date

Environmental Health Perspectives just published a new study I co-authored that provides the most current estimates of mercury levels in U.S. seafood. This new database is based on hundreds of government monitoring programs and peer-reviewed scientific studies, and is now publicly available to public health professionals to incorporate into seafood consumption advice.

The study is titled ‘A Quantitative Synthesis of Mercury in Commercial Seafood and Implications for Exposure in the U.S.’ and was co-authored by colleagues from Stony Brook University.

Overall, almost half of the seafood items we surveyed had higher mercury levels than those reported by the Food and Drug Administration’s Monitoring Program. Some notable examples include marlin, cobia (wild), bluefin, bigeye and blackfin tuna, orange roughy and Chilean seabass. These species have mercury levels similar to those seafood items already listed in the federal methylmercury advisory. Read More »

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