EDFish

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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Consumers Deserve to Know about Seafood Contaminants

Tim Fitzgerald, Sr. Policy Specialist, Oceans

Tim Fitzgerald, Scientist and Senior Oceans Policy Specialist

If you can choose whether to have tartar sauce with your fish, why not high levels of mercury?

The Washington Post ran a story last week that said fish consumption advisories for pollutants like mercury do more harm than good by discouraging people from eating fish. Tuesday, the newspaper published a letter in response from me and Dr. Lynn Goldman, Dean of The George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services and member of EDF’s Board of Trustees.

Eating seafood is an important part of a healthy diet. However, that does not justify ignoring the fact that some types of fish contain high concentrations of environmental contaminants. Just last week, a new study came out that documented significant losses of IQ points from the American population as a result of elevated blood mercury levels (and other environmental contaminants). Read More »

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Seafood Fraud: What You Order Isn’t Always What You Get

Plated seafood. Image by Eliza Adam (Creative Commons License)Mislabeled seafood, or seafood fraud, is a hot topic in the fish world these days. Recent exposés by the Boston Globe and Consumer Reports have revealed an alarmingly high rate of seafood  deception in restaurants and markets. Conducting DNA testing on fish from local restaurants, the Globe found that about 50% of tested fish were mislabeled. What does this mean? Well, for the average seafood consumer, it means that the fish you pay for is often not the one you actually get.

Seafood fraud can result in adverse health effects, reinforce the market for illegal fishing, and perpetuate false information about the true state of the marine environment.

But unless you’re a marine biologist, fisherman or seafood purveyor, it can be hard to tell the difference between wild and farmed salmon, red snapper and tilapia, or grouper and Vietnamese catfish (aka basa). The FDA has a list of the most commonly substituted seafood items, but good luck finding this posted anywhere that you buy fish. Read More »

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Environmental Defense Fund Partners with Gulf Fishermen to Launch Gulf Wild™ Seafood Assurance Program

Gulf Wild

myGulfWild.com

In a bold effort to restore consumer confidence in Gulf of Mexico seafood, EDF is working with a group of forward-looking Gulf fishermen and other conservation and fishery improvement organizations to launch a new seafood assurance campaign called Gulf Wild™. The Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, a trade organization of fishermen in the individual fishing quota (IFQ) catch share program for Gulf red snapper and grouper, developed Gulf Wild™ in collaboration with EDF to help consumers, chefs, and retailers identify responsibly managed, safety-inspected, authentic Gulf seafood that can be tracked directly to its source.

Shareholders’ Alliance president and Gulf fisherman David Krebs announced Gulf Wild™ earlier this week at the opening of the 2011 International Boston Seafood Show. Krebs said one of the current challenges that Shareholders’ Alliance fishermen face today is “educating conscientious consumers and chefs about the conservation measures we are undertaking, and showing them how these measures are helping species like Gulf grouper and Gulf red snapper.” 

Red snapper and grouper on ice, each with the small blue and white Gulf Wild tag attached to the gill.

Gulf Wild™ fish labeled with a sequentially numbered gill tag, which is trackable on mygulfwild.com.

Gulf Wild™ requires participating fishermen to verify that the fish were caught in a sustainable manner under a unique set of “Conservation Covenants”, which guarantee conscientious harvesting. Additionally, Gulf Wild™ fishermen have already been operating under a red snapper IFQ program since 2007 to better manage the fishery.

With that IFQ in place, Krebs said, “Gulf red snapper is moving from a ‘red-listed’ fishery to a more sustainable one.”  Since the inception of the red snapper IFQ, overfishing has ended, wasteful discards have dropped by 80%, and fishermen have seen a 40 percent increase in the total allowable catch.

Key to the Gulf Wild™ program is a tracking system that allows the buyer to “find my fish.” Each Gulf Wild™ fish is marked with a sequentially numbered gill tag just minutes after it is brought on board, whose unique credentials are uploaded to the web when the catch reaches shore. That information is made public via myGulfWild.com, where you can enter the unique tag number and confirm the fish species, catch location, landing port, and even information about the vessel and its captain.

Finally, in direct response to consumer concerns stemming from the BP oil disaster, Gulf Wild™ incorporates a stringent safety-testing protocol that goes above and beyond federal requirements. An independent international testing laboratory will routinely sample Gulf Wild™ fish to test for oil-based contaminants such as PAHs, dispersants, and heavy metals.

To start, Gulf Wild™ tags are now on Gulf red snapper and grouper, with more than a dozen species from the IFQ catch share program to follow. We will continue to expand and improve upon Gulf Wild™ in the months to come, in partnership with an advisory panel of respected experts from the culinary, food safety, public health, conservation, and seafood marketing communities.

I am excited about the Gulf Wild™ project for a number of reasons. First, it highlights the efforts of a rebounding fishery that has transitioned to more sensible management and made notable environmental and economic gains as a result. Second, it shows that there are success stories to be told in the wake of last summer’s BP oil disaster. Last, but not least, Gulf Wild™ can serve as a model for other fisheries around the country as a way of building consumer confidence while creating new market value at the same time.

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