MONTEREY Calif. The state of ocean life is still in decline, but the tide may be turning in the push for sustainably fished and farmed seafood, according to a benchmark report released Tuesday by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Called “Turning the Tide: The State of Seafood,” the report documents the continuing threat of overfishing and environmental change, but it also highlights positive efforts by chefs, food suppliers, consumers, businesses and governments that have helped reverse some of the damage done.
In conjunction with the report, aquarium officials on Tuesday also launched a national campaign asking chefs and restaurant operators to take the "Save Our Seafood pledge” not to serve items from the Seafood Watch “avoid” list, a program developed 10 years ago by the aquarium to reduce demand for endangered fish species.
Those who have already taken the pledge include Alton Brown of Be Square Productions in Atlanta; Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago; Susan Spicer of Bayona in New Orleans; Rick Moonen of rm seafood in Las Vegas; Fedele Bauccio of Bon Appetit Management Co. in Palo Alto, Calif.; Michelle Bernstein of Michy’s in Miami; Suzanne Goin of Lucques and A.O.C. in Los Angeles; Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger of Border Grill and Ciudad in Los Angeles; and Michel Nischan of The Dressing Room in Westport, Conn.
“Forward-thinking chefs, food suppliers and seafood producers have taken innovative steps to adopt environmentally responsible practices,” the report said. “Consumers are driving the movement by connecting the fish on their plates with the living oceans from which they came, by voting with their wallets. These trends are positive and offer hope for the future.”
The report also praised such foodservice companies as Compass Group North America, Aramark and Unilever for making a significant commitment to purchase sustainable seafood, especially at a time when demand for seafood is rising rapidly.
Americans are eating an average of 40 pounds of seafood per year — higher than the global average of 36 pounds per year — and over the next decade, demand is expected to grow by as much as 10 percent annually, the report said.
This year, for the first time, humans will eat more farm-raised seafood than wild caught. As the oceans are depleted, the aquaculture industry has ramped up to meet demand. However, aquaculture also comes with environmental challenges and must be managed to prevent harm to ocean ecosystems, the report notes.
Positive developments include the consensus reached earlier this year by scientists, who agreed on several steps for bringing back the world’s fish population. Among them were management techniques, such as closing fishing areas and restricting certain types of fishing gear; efforts by governments to better manage fisheries and fish-farming; and limiting coastal pollution.
Legislation adopted in California earlier this month, for example, establishes a commission charged with the task of developing a new labeling system for seafood sold in the state that will allow retailers to market items that are “sustainable.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium report also identifies a list of “Super Green” seafood choices that do not harm the oceans and are good for you, including albacore tuna that is troll or pole caught from U.S. waters or British Columbia; farm-raised mussels; farm-raised oysters; wild Pacific sardines; wild pink shrimp from Oregon; wild Alaska salmon; wild spot prawns from British Columbia; and farm-raised rainbow trout.
Turning the Tide: The State of Seafood is available on the Monterey Bay Aquarium website at www.montereybayaquarium.org/seafoodwatch. It will be updated every two years, according to officials with the aquarium, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month.
The report, however, was not cheered by all.
The National Fisheries Institute, a nonprofit funded by seafood suppliers, producers and wholesalers, urged consumers to view the report with “skepticism” and consult other sources.
Contrary to the aquarium report, the NFI estimates that Americans eat only slightly more than 16 pounds of seafood on average per year, though they should eat more to meet the recommended guidelines of seafood twice weekly.
In a statement Tuesday, NFI officials said the aquarium’s “Super Green” list “with its nuances and caveats, will only discourage Americans from eating seafood.”
NFI also said the aquarium’s report “simply adds to the already complex and confusing mass information about seafood on the Internet,” and that it “mixes health information with opinions about the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture, an issue the seafood industry is engaged in on a practical level every day. Sustainability is not just a philosophical issue; it’s a commercial one and NFI differs with the Monterey Bay Aquarium on a number of levels.”