Big, predatory fish, like cod, halibut and tuna, are being fished to the brink of extinction, their numbers having plummeted by 90% since 1950.
Yet restaurants and markets always have fish available. How can that be? Because increasingly, they are selling farmed fish to make up for dwindling supplies of wild-caught fish.
Bypassing the ethics of recklessly driving wild fish to the brink of extinction, some propose farmed fish as a solution to dwindling native stocks. But farming fish brings its own array of bad consequences. Fish farming can damage the environment by degrading coastal habitat and pushing wild populations closer to extinction, polluting water, spreading disease and parasites, and contaminating wild gene pools. And farming carnivorous fish, like salmon, consumes more fish than it produces.
And fish farming, just an aquatic form of factory farming, is inhumane. Fish in aquatic factory farms live in severely overcrowded conditions where injury is common and disease and parasites spread quickly. Factory fish are also inhumanely slaughtered.
If humans stop now, wild fish can recover, if they are adequately protected by science-based catch limits and if those limits are enforced. In the U.S., for instance, progress has been made in rebuilding fish stocks since the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996. But most of the rest of the world doesn't have such protections in place, and fishing on the high seas is virtually unregulated.
Even so, we, as informed consumers, can have a powerful impact on the survival of wild fish stocks. The U.S. is the third biggest fish consumer in the world, so we Americans have a lot of clout in the market. Here's how you can use that clout:
- Buy domestic fish. The U.S. has some of the best-regulated and managed fisheries in the world;
- Buy local, if you can. The closer the source, the smaller the contribution to global warming and the more stable the marine environment for fish and other species;
- Buy directly from fishers, if possible. Ask them about their fishing methods to confirm that they fish sustainably. And consider joining a Community Supported Fishery (CSF);
- When you can't buy direct from fishers, shop at stores committed to selling sustainable fish. In 2013, Whole Foods, Safeway and Trader Joe's were the top three chains selling sustainable fish, according to Greenpeace's annual survey -- but your local market may be doing the right thing too, so ask;
- Choose wild over farmed fish, for the above reasons;
- Choose small, non-predatory fish, like oysters, mackerel, sardines and mussels, which tend to be at lower risk from overfishing;
- Be open to new (wild, local) fish varieties.
- In restaurants, follow the same general guidelines: if no fish on the menu meets the guidelines, try something else, and tell the waiter why. At a fine restaurant, ask to speak to the chef so you can tell him or her directly.
Or you could eat less fish. You only need two three-ounce servings a week to get the minimum Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3s are also available from other sources, like flaxseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil, kale, and spinach.
More from Sheryl Eisenberg's This Green Blog.