At a holiday cookout this past weekend, my friend asked me if I’d like some ceviche. I looked at the pile of fresh shrimp and responded “I’m actually trying to cut down on my seafood consumption.”
Lame, I know, but the seafood that I’m most fond of aren’t exactly the most sustainable options. Shrimp can be problematic. US farmed shrimp is preferable to foreign, but one still has to be careful. According to Seafood Watch, the US actually only produces less than 1% of the shrimp eaten by Americans (maybe less soon considering the Gulf oil disaster?). Shrimp farms can possess the same problems as fish farms. Wild fish is needed to feed the shrimp. The vast majority of shrimp farms release polluted effluent into the environment. But wild caught shrimp comes with its own problem, bycatch. Bycatch refers to the animals caught in fishing equipment along with the intended catch. Bycatch is thrown back overboard, dead or dying. With shrimp, bycatch includes seahorses and sea turtles. Ouch. I’ll pass on the ceviche.
But more than shrimp, I like albacore tuna.
Mom's tuna casserole, can I really live without it?
I have yet to see canned tuna that is MSC certified. I have no idea if my tuna is longline-caught. Longline-caught tuna is more mature and contains more mercury than tuna caught by trolling or tuna that is pole caught. Bycatch is also a problem with tuna, and can include sea turtles, seabirds and sharks. That seems like a lot of carnage for my tuna salad, I have to admit.
Worse (much worse) than albacore though, is bluefin. Management of bluefin fishing has proved completely ineffective worldwide. Bycatch is again a problem and is unregulated. The bluefin tuna industry is actually contributing to the decline of endangered animals caught along with the tuna — which is itself an endangered species. The word “overfished” doesn’t begin to describe bluefin; Seafood Watch reports that the Atlantic population of bluefin has declined by nearly 90% since the 1970s. At present, Mitsubishi is being accused of hoarding thousands of tons of bluefin and freezing it. When the stock crashes, as it is expected to, imagine the profits to Mitsubishi. Until very recently, you could buy bluefin tuna-flavored Whiskas cat food. Yes, really. Where is the disconnect? Endangered animals in your pet food? I’d like to echo a question posed by Greenpeace: You wouldn’t eat a tiger, so why would you eat an endangered bluefin tuna?
So I’ve been considering a new challenge. First there was vegan month, then cake week(s) (boy, those were tough) and now, perhaps, there should be a month without seafood.
While my month of veganism gave me a huge appreciation of how difficult it can be to not eat animal products when you like the way they taste (yes, I have heard tell of some people who don’t like the way meat tastes), it didn’t ultimately change my diet. I try to limit my animal foods to ones that were produced humanely and sustainably, but I did that prior to giving veganism a try. And sometimes I really want that burger, regardless of whether or not it was made with free-range beef. A diet free of animal products just couldn’t stick with me. But a diet without seafood? Maybe.
The restrictions of a vegan diet are pretty clear. Sustainable food terminology can be confusing, but even a working flexitarian like myself can navigate the labels at Whole Foods or talk with the farmers at the market. I know to look for pastured, organic, local meat. Sustainable seafood is hardly cut and dry. You may know not to eat bluefin, but do you also know not to eat toro, giant tuna, kuromaguro and horse mackerel? Because they all mean one thing — bluefin tuna.