Seafood on the skids.The last tuna. The last swordfish.
The idea sounds absurd. Yet the world's growing appetite for fish and shellfish could spell disaster for seafood around the globe.
"The sea is in serious trouble and we need to take action now," warns Elliott Norse, president of the non-profit Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI MCBI Marine Conservation Biology Institute
MCBI Michigan Center for Biological Information
MCBI Monarch Community Bancorp Inc.
MCBI Medical Center of Boston International
MCBI Minnesota Christian Broadcasters Inc. ) in Redmond, Washington.
Last September, the National Marine Fisheries Service The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is a United States federal agency. A division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Commerce, NMFS is responsible for the stewardship and management of the nation's living marine (NMFS NMFS National Marine Fisheries Service
NMFS National Mortality Followback Survey
NMFS Network Multimedia File System
NMFS Nested Mount File System ) said that 86 of the species caught in U.S. waters are "overfished." In most cases, that means they're being caught faster than they can reproduce.
"We are squandering squan·der
tr.v. squan·dered, squan·der·ing, squan·ders
1. To spend wastefully or extravagantly; dissipate. See Synonyms at waste.
2. the greatest remaining natural resource on earth," says Norse. "If we don't do something immediately, we will live to regret it."
How did we get ourselves into this mess? Can fish-lovers eat any seafood with a clear conscience?
1. To use up something, such as a nutrient.
2. To empty something out, as the body of electrolytes. the oceans' wealth of fish and shellfish? A generation ago it would have been unthinkable. No longer.
"Roughly 70 percent of the world's commercially important marine fish populations are now fully fished, overexploited, depleted, or slowly recovering," says Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defense Council The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a New York City-based, non-profit non-partisan international environmental advocacy group, with offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Beijing. Founded in 1970, NRDC today has 1. (NRDC NRDC Natural Resources Defense Council
NRDC National Research and Development Centre (Institute of Education, London)
NRDC National Realty & Development Corp. ), a non-profit environmental advocacy group based in New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of .
The major problem: Too much fishing firepower is hunting down a limited number of fish. According to the United Nations, the world's fishing capacity would have to be reduced by 30 percent to allow overfished resources to recover.
That's unlikely to happen. Governments around the world invest more than $50 billion a year in ships and fishing technology. As a result, fish don't have a fighting chance one dependent upon the issue of a struggle.
See also: Fighting :
* Fishing fleets now use sonar to probe the ocean depths and detect schools of fish.
* Boars equipped with satellite guidance systems can return to the same spot year after year.
* Ships that hunt tuna and swordfish slowly release high-strength fishing line up to 80 miles long that's baited with thousands of hooks. Thanks to the killing efficiency of these "longlines," supplies of Atlantic tuna and swordfish are dwindling.
* "Bottom trawlers" drag heavily weighted nets across the seabed to SCOOP Up shrimp, scallops, and fish like cod, which swim near the ocean floor. In the process, the nets "crush or bury lobsters, clams, corals, sponges, and other creatures that live on or in the sea bed," says the Marine Conservation Biology Institute (MCBI). Trawling For fishing by dragging a baited line after a boat, see .
Trawling is a method of fishing that involves actively pulling a fishing net through the water behind one or more boats, called trawlers. accounts for more of the world's fish catch than any other method.
"Its effects are similar to clearcutting forests, but are more extensive," says the MCBI's Elliott Norse. "The area of seabed trawled worldwide is at least 15 times greater than the area of forests that is clearcut each year."
The biggest factory trawler, the American Monarch, reportedly can scoop tip a million pounds of fish a day. Earlier this year, Chile and Peru refused to let the ship anchor off their coasts. They were afraid that it would deplete local fish stocks.
These indiscriminate fishing methods take a grisly toll. "Bycatch" is the bloodless-sounding term for the slaughter of sea turtles, dolphins, white whales, and other animals that are inadvertently caught tip in nets and lines. The United Nations estimates that 27 million tons of unwanted fish are tossed--usually dead or dying--back into the oceans each year. That's more than a quarter of the total annual marine catch.
"We are no longer living off the income of our fisheries," warns the NRDC. "We're eating deeply into the capital."
As the big predators like cod, tuna, and swordfish are depleted, commercial fishermen are "fishing down the food chain." As a result, fish that used to be eaten by other fish are now eaten by humans.
Another trend that worries marine ecologists is deep sea fishing. As species that live just below the surface are overfished, commercial fleets are forced to go deeper. And that can have unforeseen consequences.
Orange roughy are found in deep pockets in the Atlantic and off the coast of New Zealand. They might live for 100 years or more, and don't even reach sexual maturity until they're 25 or 30. By the time scientists realized that, fishing fleets had taken all they could find ... including enormous numbers of sexually immature fish.
As a result, orange roughy have become rare. In the Pacific, the species may not recover for 100 years or more.
Did you know that your salmon steak may have come from a fish reared in a pen off the coast of Chile or Norway? Or that the shrimp in your Hunan Shrimp may have been grown in a pond along the coast of Thailand?
About half our shrimp, a third of our salmon, and most of our catfish and trout have never swum swum
Past participle of swim.
the past participle of swim
swum swim freely in a lake or the ocean, says Rebecca Goldburg of the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF (algorithm) EDF - earliest deadline first. ) in New York.
What do we gain (or lose) by growing instead of catching our seafood?
* Nutritional Value. Farmed fish is fattier than wild fish. But most of the extra fat is monounsaturated monounsaturated /mono·un·sat·u·rat·ed/ (mon?o-un-sach´er-at?ed) of a chemical compound, containing one double or triple bond.
adj. , so it doesn't raise LDL LDL - ["LDL: A Logic-Based Data-Language", S. Tsur et al, Proc VLDB 1986, Kyoto Japan, Aug 1986, pp.33-41]. ("bad") cholesterol and may help raise HDL (Hardware Description Language) A language used to describe the functions of an electronic circuit for documentation, simulation or logic synthesis (or all three). Although many proprietary HDLs have been developed, Verilog and VHDL are the major standards. ("good") cholesterol. And in most cases, farmed and wild fish have about the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids This is a list of omega-3 fatty acids.
Common name Lipid name Chemical name
α-Linolenic acid (ALA) 18:3 (n-3) octadeca-9,12,15-trienoic acid
Stearidonic acid 18:4 (n-3) octadeca-6,9,12,15-tetraenoic acid , which give fish their healthy reputation (see "Fishing for Omegas," p.8).
* Pesticides. Farm-raised fish are more likely than wild fish to contain small amounts of pesticides, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration. Some of it leeches into the fish ponds from the surrounding soil--often decades after it was applied. Some comes from the feed or the water that's added to the ponds.
In 1994, the FDA FDA
Food and Drug Administration
n.pr See Food and Drug Administration.
n.pr the abbreviation for the Food and Drug Administration. collected 1.60 samples of fish and shellfish raised in the U.S. A little more than half contained traces of DDT DDT or 2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)-1,1,1,-trichloroethane, chlorinated hydrocarbon compound used as an insecticide. First introduced during the 1940s, it killed insects that spread disease and feed on crops. , a pesticide that was banned in 1972. But all of the samples had far less than the maximum allowable amount.
"That's not surprising," says Ellen Silbergeld, a toxicologist at the University of Maryland University of Maryland can refer to:
"For a typical consumer those pesticide levels should not be a concern, even for high-risk groups like pregnant or nursing women," says Henry Anderson, Chief Medical Officer for Occupational and Environmental Health in the Wisconsin Division of Health.
In 1995, the FDA decided that pesficide levels in farm-raised seafood did not pose a health hazard and stopped tracking them separately.
* Antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and prevent them from spreading throughout the stock. "We've looked and haven't found residues of any antibiotics in domestic or imported farm-raised seafood since 1994," says Kim Young of the FDA's Office of Seafood.
Still, the FDA has only a limited inspection program, says the Environmental Defense Fund, so it could be missing some residues.
* Environmental Pollution. "Some aquaculture aquaculture, the raising and harvesting of fresh- and saltwater plants and animals. The most economically important form of aquaculture is fish farming, an industry that accounts for an ever increasing share of world fisheries production. systems are environmentally more responsible than others," says the EDF's Rebecca Goldburg. Oyster, clam, scallop scallop or pecten, marine bivalve mollusk. Like its close relative the oyster, the scallop has no siphons, the mantle being completely open, but it differs from other mollusks in that both mantle edges have a row of steely blue "eyes" and , mussel mussel, edible freshwater or marine bivalve mollusk. Mussels are able to move slowly by means of the muscular foot. They feed and breathe by filtering water through extensible tubes called siphons; a large mussel filters 10 gal (38 liters) of water per day. , and catfish farms tend to be among the responsible ones, she says, though some catfish farmers shoot fish-eating birds.
Salmon farms may not be responsible. "The he uneaten food and the excrement excrement /ex·cre·ment/ (eks´kri-mint)
2. excretion (2).
Waste matter or any excretion cast out of the body, especially feces. that's created can pollute the local marine waters just like raw sewage," says Goldburg.
She and other environmentalists also worry that domesticated do·mes·ti·cate
tr.v. do·mes·ti·cat·ed, do·mes·ti·cat·ing, do·mes·ti·cates
1. To cause to feel comfortable at home; make domestic.
2. To adopt or make fit for domestic use or life.
a. Atlantic salmon--which are often grown on the West Coast--will escape captivity and settle in the local waters, displacing Pacific salmon. "Anything that cuts down on the diversity of species carries a risk," she says.
The worst aquaculture? "Shrimp farming is a rapacious and primitive way of producing seafood," says Goldburg. Huge tracts of mangrove mangrove, large tropical evergreen tree, genus Rhizophora, that grows on muddy tidal flats and along protected ocean shorelines. Mangroves are most abundant in tropical Asia, Africa, and the islands of the SW Pacific. forests have been cut down in Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America to make room for shrimp ponds to feed North America's and Europe's voracious appetite for shrimp.
"The industry is learning from mistakes that were made in the early stages of its development," says Ken Gall of New York Sea Grant, a federally funded program that does research and education on seafood and other marine issues.
"There now appears to be less clearing of mangrove forests for shrimp ponds than there used to be," agrees Goldburg. But there are still plenty of other problems. For example: To seed their ponds, shrimp farmers need huge numbers of shrimp. "For every one stalked, up to a hundred other marine creatures may be killed."
Another reason to think twice about that shrimp-lover's feast: "For every pound of wild shrimp sold in markets Or restaurants, five pounds of other sea creatures are caught and killed," says Goldburg.
What to Do
What can you do to stop the high-tech, increasingly effective worldwide fish hunt? Avoiding overfished species like Atlantic sea scallops, flounder flounder: see flatfish.
Any of about 300 species of flatfishes (order Pleuronectiformes). When born, the flounder is bilaterally symmetrical, with an eye on each side, and it swims near the sea's surface. , and red snapper isn't the answer, say most environmentalists.
"We're not recommending that people avoid eating seafood that's being overfished--with the one exception of North Atlantic swordfish during 1998," says the NRDC's Lisa Speer.
"With swordfish, our traditional methods of advocacy haven't worked. So we're trying to enlist consumers to help us get the federal government to act more effectively to secure their recovery. Everybody's heard of swordfish and giving it up for awhile is not going to hurt anyone nutritionally. The good news is that swordfish can come back because this is a really prolific species. We can bring them back in ten years without shutting down the fishery or taking really drastic measures."
The government agency responsible for managing marine resources, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), opposes boycotts.
"For each species we've declared overfished, there's now a plan in place or being prepared to fix that," says Gary Matlock, director of the NMFS's Office of Sustainable Fisheries. "Thanks to a 1996 law, the NMF's must restore any overfished species back to sustainable levels as soon as possible, or within ten years, unless the biology of the fish, an international agreement, or other environmental conditions dictate otherwise."
The NRDC has its doubts about some of the NMFS's plans. "We think the international community and the government are allowing too many Atlantic swordfish and some other fish like Ted snapper snapper, name for members of the Lutianidae, a family of spiny-finned food and game fishes found chiefly in tropical coastal waters. Snappers are carnivorous, active, and voracious, with large mouths and sharp teeth. Most species travel in dense schools. to be caught," says the NRDC's Karen Garrison.
But North Atlantic swordfish is the NRDC's only "don't buy," and only during 1998. The "don't eat" list of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute's Elliott Norse is longer.
* Shark. "We should not be eating sharks. That means no shark fin soup, no blacktip steak, no mako shark mako shark
Any of certain potentially dangerous sharks (genus Isurus) in the mackerel shark family (Isuridae). Two species are generally recognized: the Atlantic I. oxyrinchus and the Indo-Pacific I. glaucus. Makos range throughout tropical and temperate seas. steak. Sharks are too vulnerable to overexploitation. They're like people. They live a long time, they have small numbers of young, and it takes many sharks 15 years or more to reach reproductive age."
* Atlantic Swordfish & Marlin. "We've hit their populations so hard that they're in real trouble, especially in the Atlantic. When you see them for sale, just say `no."'
* Bluefin Tuna. "They're prized by people in Japan in particular. The big fatty bluefin make the most expensive sashimi. The rarer they get, the more pressure there is to fish them. I don't discourage people from eating canned tuna because most of it is caught in a less-harmful method than in years past."
* Orange Roughy. "They're inherently difficult to fish sustainably because they take such a long time to grow and reach sexual maturity."
* Chilean Sea Bass. "It's a great fish. It's delicious. It broils, it stews, you can do almost anything with it. But you're only going to get one chance ... because they are deep-sea, long-lived fish and nobody is fishing them sustainably. Unless we act right now, we're not going to have Chilean sea bass on the menu in the future."
* Shrimp. "Everyone in the Red Lobsters and the Ruth's Chris Steak Houses of this world wants shrimp. And that makes it worthwhile economically to catch them, even if they make up only five percent of the catch and if the other 95 percent consists of other living things that are killed in the process. As for farmed shrimp, we destroy coastal ecosystems like mangrove forests from Ecuador and Panama to Thailand and India and turn them into shrimp farms, which produce for a few years and then are abandoned, as people move on and cut more forest. The only shrimp I'll eat are cool-water species that are caught in shrimp pots."
"Whatever generated us generated all other living things," says Norse. "It's our moral responsibility not to destroy the sea.
"Nature works slowly, but our economies work quickly. And our regulatory systems, unfortunately, are much slower to respond than our economic systems. If we want to eat seafood in the future, we're going to have to do a better job than we're doing today."
RELATED ARTICLE: MERCURY RISING
Mercury is a toxic metal that accumulates in brain tissue. It can cause birth defects and behavior problems in children and nerve damage in adults.
While "human exposure to mercury occurs primarily through eating contaminated fish," says the Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), independent agency of the U.S. government, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1970 to reduce and control air and water pollution, noise pollution, and radiation and to ensure the safe handling and (EPA EPA eicosapentaenoic acid.
n.pr See acid, eicosapentaenoic.
n. ), "the levels of mercury encountered in commercial fish are generally low." According to both the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "it is safe to eat fish and other seafood from grocery stores and restaurants."
The people who are at greatest risk, says the EPA, are recreational fishers and others who eat large amounts of locally caught fish from mercury-polluted waters.
To play it safe, the FDA recommends that women of chilbearing age at shark or swordfish (which accumulate mercury from their prey) no more than once a month. Everyone else should limit those fish to seven ounces a week.
The FDA also recommends that everyone limit grouper grouper, common name for a large carnivorous member of the family Serranidae (sea bass family), abundant in tropical and subtropical seas and highly valued as food fish. , marlin, and orange roughy to 14 ounces a week and all other seafood (including canned tuna) to about two pounds a week.
RELATED ARTICLE: FIND YOUR FISH
Every year the National Marine Fisheries Service must tell Congress which ocean fish and shellfish in U.S. waters are already--or are at risk of becoming--overfished. We've listed the most commonly eaten fish from the NMFS's latest report, which was issued in September 1997. We've also added a few popular fish like cat-fish and trout.
Use this list to check on the status of your favorite species, but keep in mind that environmentalists don't recommend boycotting all the fish in the "overfished" column.
Catfish, all Clams Mackerel mackerel, common name for members of the family Scombridae, 60 species of open-sea fishes, including the albacore, bonito, and tuna. They are characterized by deeply forked tails that narrow greatly where they join the body; small finlets behind both the dorsal and , jack (canned) Oysters Perch Pollock Salmon, farm-raised Salmon, pink and sockeye, wild Scallops, Alaskan Shrimp Swordfish, Pacific Trout, farm-raised or wild Tuna, except West Atlantic bluefin Whiting
Flounder, most varieties Halibut halibut: see flatfish.
Any of various flatfishes, especially the Atlantic and Pacific halibuts (genus Hippoglossus, family Pleuronectidae), both of which have eyes and colour on the right side. , Atlantic Lobster, American Red Snapper Salmon, Atlantic, wild Sea bass, Chilean Sea Scallops, Atlantic Swordfish, North Atlantic Tuna, West Atlantic bluefin
Unknown or Depends on Location
Cod Crabs, most varieties Haddock Rockfish rockfish, member of the large family Scorpaenidae (rockfishes and scorpionfishes), carnivorous fish inhabiting all seas and especially abundant in the temperate waters of the Pacific. Rockfishes are found among rocks and reefs. Salmon, wild (except Atlantic, pink, and sockeye
Source: Adapted from Status of Fisheries of the United States, National Marine Fisheries Service, September 1997.