Introduction: Nearly 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are fished to capacity. Most fish available today in the United States is imported, frequently from places where health, safety, and environmental standards are weak or non-existent. Because many popular wild fish populations are on the verge of collapse, seafood-watch guides like the one produced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, have become popular for conscious consumers. But are supermarkets and restaurants taking note? With ocean health hanging in the balance, Green Acre Radio decided to take a look.
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Narration: In its report, “Carting Away the Oceans”, Greenpeace ranks retailers across the nation on where they get their seafood. This year Safeway and Target scored highest among top retailers, with PCC Natural Markets ranked No. 1 in listings for smaller stores. Eli Penberthy oversees seafood sustainability at PCC. “We’d love to see an industry wide push for better traceability protocol," Penberthy says. "That’s just not in place right now, which is unfortunate and something that we’re working toward as a store and as a member of the larger sustainable seafood community.”
PCC’s commitment to seafood sustainablility extends to all categories, fresh, frozen, canned, and in the deli. Local pole-caught albacore tuna from Oregon and Washington is a store favorite. It’s bought from Seafood Producers Coop in Bellingham. “It’s one fisherman out on a boat with his pole and line. They freeze it right on the boat so it really preserves the quality and the freshness and it’s just a beautiful fish.” Buying local fish that’s frozen, says Penberthy, increases sustainability because the fish can be transported by barge or train. “It doesn't have to be flown overnight like a lot of our fresh seafood does.” As for a healthy choice, juvenile albacore tuna can’t be beat, says Penberthy. The omega-3 content is twice as much as salmon per serving and the mercury content much lower than other tuna. At $6 to $7 a pound for frozen or fresh, juvenile albacore tuna are among the least expensive of sustainable options, which also include Oregon shrimp, wild salmon, and halibut.
Canned tuna usually gets a bad rap for the catch method. But Wild Planet, Pelican’s Choice, and Sweet Creek are among the brands that are different. Wild Planet founder Bill Carvalho says 60 percent of tuna are still caught using long lines or purse seines which indiscriminately capture and often maim or kill sharks, sea turtles and even birds. “That gear targets older brood stock the real prolific breeding segment of the albacore stocks and that would be OK if it was taken in reasonable numbers that would allow the breed to continue.” But overfishing and farmed fish have pushed some wild fish to the brink of extinction. Wild Planet has worked to make its tuna accessible to a broad range of consumers. At $3.50 a can, the cost is higher than unsustainable brands, but it’s 100 percent tuna, says Carvalho, and cooked only once and without fillers like water, oil, or soy. He urges consumers to view cost this way: “If we don’t do the right thing no one is going to be buying any tuna. We have to look in the mirror and realize that we are inhabitants of the earth and it’s up to us to do the right thing by the other inhabitants of the earth, some of which we use for food.”
In the Greenpeace report, “Carting Away the Oceans”, Safeway and Target also received high marks. Casson Trenor is senior marketing campaigner at Greenpeace. He spearheads the organization’s efforts to hold supermarkets and restaurants accountable for their seafood practices and educate the public about the global fisheries crisis. In 2010 Target discontinued selling farmed salmon. “This is something the industry said couldn’t be done, especially for a price leader. But it’s not. Go to Target and try to find farmed salmon; you’re not going to be able to do it.” This year Greenpeace ratings didn’t include WalMart but the retail giant may be making a come back, says Trenor. They recently dropped all Chilean bass, which is on the avoid list of the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. “What WalMart does moves the world and it can either move it forward or backward.”
Trenor is author of Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving the Oceans One Bite at a Time. Compared to grocery stores sushi restaurants have a long way to go. Of an estimated 3,000 sushi restaurants across the country, only eight champion sustainability.
A new study from the University of Washington Tacoma found salmon sold in Puget Sound area restaurants frequently mislabeled. Erica Cline is assistant professor of biology. Students were given the job of bringing salmon identified as wild in restaurants back to the lab and then conducting DNA tests. Cline said: “We had 24 percent substitution of Atlantic for Pacific salmon. So in other words almost a quarter of the fish that you order where you think you’re getting Pacific, you’re actually getting Atlantic.” Wild Atlantic salmon have been fished to extinction, explains Cline. Only farmed salmon remain.When restaurants don’t specify wild, it’s probably farmed. “Most of the time this is going to be substantially cheaper.” Which again raises the issue of cost and sustainability. Is the adage true, that sustainability is just for the rich?
Again Casson Trenor with Greenpeace: “There’s a reason that we call these fish unsustainable. It’s because we can’t sustain what we are doing and eventually the scarcity of the resource will drive the price up. If we want to avoid that we need to move to sustainable seafood now.” If we don’t pay out of our wallets, says Trenor, we’ll continue to pay out of our planet.