|Saving Our Seafood|
|Written by Jim W. Harper -- BT Contributor|
For those of us who want to keep eating fish, wiser choices are necessary
The New York Times got it wrong last month when its editorial page stated the majority of fish consumed by humans would shift this year from wild-caught to farm-raised fish. The actual projection for that, according to a 2012 report by the United Nations, is 2018.
But what’s a year or two among fish? For humans, an amazing threshold will be passed soon. When more fish are farmed than caught, for the first time no major source of animal protein will come from the wild. None. Catching your dinner will become obsolete. Hunting is so over.
We have become farmers of fish. (Actually, Asians farm it and we buy it.) This switch from wild to farmed fish tells us we can no longer depend on wild animals to feed the world, because fish were our last option. For today’s appetites, there are simply not enough fish in the sea.
It sounds crazy, but it’s true. Think about it: Why would any fishery waste money to raise fish when they can catch them for free? The quick answer is that all the easy, “free” fish have been decimated, and today boats have to search farther and deeper to extract those free-range fish. We have hunted fish, and we have “won.” We beat the big whales long ago, and now we’ve beaten the little guys, too.
Why do we treat the ocean like a bottomless bank? Perhaps because it’s the closest thing on earth to infinite, but the ocean has definite boundaries, and its creatures, a finite ability to replenish themselves.
For decades, overfishing has pummeled the sea, and today there’s also climate change affecting the ocean. Add in pollution coming from land, such as fertilizers and sewage, and you have the 1-2-3 knockout. Overfishing, pow. Air pollution, bam. Runoff, fight over.
Even while the ocean is down for the count, we keep kicking it. Mangroves are disappearing at a rate faster than rainforests. Bluefin tuna, the majestic buffalo of the sea, is becoming extinct. Coral reefs are predicted to disappear this century, becoming the first lost ecosystem in recorded history.
We cannot let this happen. For starters, we cannot treat fish and other seafood as we have in the past. But instead of throwing up our hands in despair, we should make wiser choices: Learn what is happening in the ocean, think before we eat seafood, and limit ourselves to seafood from well-known, sustainable sources.
Just as you would never want to eat a tiger or a chimpanzee, you should never eat a shark. Do not eat at restaurants that serve shark. Tell your supermarket’s fishmonger to stop selling it.
Good advice is available as a smartphone app or online from Seafood Choices, but the list of fish “not to eat” can become quite long and confusing, so let me simplify things for you.
Go local. A local, farmed fish is probably a better choice than a wild fish from New Zealand. Also, think fresh water instead of salt water. Plenty of tilapia are swimming around in our canals and, by catching them, you are helping to remove an exotic species.
If you can’t catch your own, buy direct from a boat or a fisher, or find a local seafood market. Some local seafood is available in grocery stores, but you have to search very carefully. Good local seafood choices include stone crabs and mahi-mahi. With a few exceptions, avoid snapper and grouper.
What about dining out for local seafood? Despite our location next to the third largest coral reef ecosystem in the world, local seafood in restaurants is hard to find. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that imported seafood is cheaper -- for now. The hidden price is unsustainable harvests that eventually will cause those fisheries to go bankrupt, just like the defunct cod fishing industry in Canada.
A restaurant committed to local seafood would likely need to charge high prices and limit selection to local species and their availability: no salmon, no cod, and no cold-water fish, such as sea bass (which should be called the Patagonian toothfish).
Around town, a few restaurants double as fish markets, such as Captain Jim’s in North Miami; Garcia’s, on the Miami River near downtown; and La Camaronera in Little Havana, where you can get one of the best fish sandwiches in the area. The newest entry in this field is Fish Fish in North Miami, which utilizes its own seafood wholesale business in the Keys.
What is sustainable seafood? For the most part, it does not exist; if it did, populations would be able to sustain themselves at similar levels over time. Many fisheries today continue to decline, while those considered “sustainable” are mostly located far from Florida’s shores. In a word, sustainable seafood is something very hard to find.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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