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|June 18- June 25, 2009
• Deceptively healthy
Don’t mistake V.G.’s vegan treats for meat
by Clay Fong
• The Dessert Diva
A local chef shares her sweet secrets
by Danette Randall
How long will our tables teem with fishy delicacies?
by Joan Obra
How much seafood will be left after 2050?
That question, debated by scientists for years, was raised again recently at Cooking for Solutions, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s annual event about sustainable seafood. To hear the scientists, chefs and fishermen tell it, the world’s oceans are in trouble. Some prized food, such as Atlantic cod, have been heavily overfished. Other species are inedible, but are ensnared unintentionally in dredges and trawl nets — two ways of fishing that also damage habitat. And some seafood farms pollute waters and spread disease.
These problems aren’t going away. Rising world population and demand for seafood are putting ever more pressure on the oceans, says Geoffrey Shester, senior science manager of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative.
“People want to eat salmon year round,” he says. “It’s created demands for luxury products that need to be met.”
What’s a concerned shopper to do? Here’s a look at four steps toward healthier oceans:
Choose sustainable seafood
While shopping at the seafood department or reading a menu, consult these resources: “Seafood Watch,” the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s lists of responsibly harvested and farmed seafood and sushi or the Blue Ocean Institute’s “Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood.” Also look for the blue label from the Marine Stewardship Council, a leading certification program for sustainable seafood.
The organizations’ websites — seafoodwatch.org, msc.org and blueocean.org — offer more information about fisheries and farms that maintain proper seafood stocks and don’t degrade the environment.
Having different guides may be confusing for shoppers, but Shester says these three organizations have come to similar conclusions.
“That’s the nice part about having different cards,” he says. “Even with different science and different methodologies, they’re aligning.”
Befriend seafood buyers
When shopping in markets or ordering off a menu, ask seafood buyers several questions: Where did this seafood come from? How was it caught? Or was it farmed? And if it’s not in stock, can it be ordered?
It may take time to get answers to these questions, especially the one about fishing methods.
Some types of sustainable seafood, such as farmed oysters, are widely available. Farmed oysters are filter feeders that improve coastal water conditions, according to “Seafood Watch.” They don’t feed on wild-caught fish (in the form of fish meal or fish oil), so they require fewer marine resources to grow.
By contrast, wild-caught Pacific sardines are hard to find locally. Ask for special orders at shops such.
Demand for this heart-healthy fish dropped after the population of Pacific sardines declined in the 1940s. Improved management has helped the fish make a comeback, but sales haven’t picked up.
“We’ve got two generations who haven’t cooked sardines,” Shester says.
Shester and others say customer requests help broaden the market for sustainable seafood. In 2001, 20 percent of chain restaurants, retailers and wholesalers dropped seafood products because of environmental considerations, according to the Seafood Choices Alliance program. By 2007, that figure grew to 37 percent.
Learn about the complex problem
One debate that’s still playing out is the future of aquaculture.
Some, such as Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, is not in favor of fish farming in the ocean. He suggests turning some of the central San Joaquin Valley’s west side into fish ponds for tilapia and barramundi. Closed systems would prevent habitat pollution, fish escapes and transfer of diseases.
“One of our thoughts has been looking at what can be done to keep (the farmland) in production,” Grader says of the west side.
Others say it’s possible to raise seafood in the ocean (a process called mariculture) with negligible environmental impacts. Neil Sims, president of Kona Blue Water Farms, raises yellowtail known as Kona Kampachi off the coast of Kona, Hawaii.
Kona Kampachi are bred from wild fish native to the area, so Kona Blue isn’t introducing a new species to those waters. He’s reducing the amount of fish oil and fish meal used in the feed of his carnivorous fish, thereby lessening Kona Blue’s reliance on marine resources. And he placed his farm in strong ocean currents to lessen the impact of his fishes’ poop. So far, monitoring equipment hasn’t found any surrounding pollution, Sims says.
Expect this debate to turn more contentious with the growth of aquaculture. Farms already account for about half of the world’s seafood, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
“Wild stocks are flat or declining,” Sims says. “In the United States, mariculture hasn’t begun to reach its potential.”
—MCT/The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).
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