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5 Ways to Eat Seafood Sustainably

Food

It's time to eat fish in a sustainable way if we hope to continue eating fish in the future.

Although wild salmon sounds more natural, it also costs more because “the supply has been devastated.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

A recent op-ed in the New York Times by Jane Brody says it's time for us to "relearn" the way we eat seafood. America's fish consumption habits are simply not sustainable. Along with ensuring your fish is fresh, Brody cautions it’s more important than ever to eat fish that is sustainable and sourced from a fish farm. Here are five essential practices to follow.

1. Watch Your Shrimp: Half of imported shrimp comes from Asia. Not only does Brody warn of “bacterial and viral infections” swarming Asian shrimp farms, but a recent investigation by the Guardian revealed a long history of participation in slave labor in Thailand’s shrimp processing chain. Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods was found to purchase fish meal from fish boats manned with slave labor.

Thai authorities told the Guardian they condemned human trafficking; meanwhile, some of the largest supermarkets like Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco are investigating the suppliers. In addition to these problems, when a shrimp farming site becomes unusable, Brody writes that “shrimp farmers simply move on, destroying more miles of mangrove along the shore and wrecking habitats for all manner of wildlife, including spawning fish.”

2. Wild Fish Won’t Meet Demand: Paul Greenberg, author of American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood tells Brody that beginning the process of eating our seafood from a sustainable, environmentally friendly fish farm would help fulfill the world’s need for fish. Already, nearly 86 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S, is imported. But consumers who turn to salmon for their omega-3 vitamins will not be so fortunate without farmed fish—nearly 170 billion pounds of wild fish are taken from our oceans, rivers and lakes. Greenberg notes that if everyone ate two servings of fish a week, another “60 billion pounds would be needed to meet the demand.”

3. Buy Farmed, Not Wild Fish: Although wild salmon sounds more natural, it also costs more (at least 50 percent more) because “the supply has been devastated,” writes Brody. Greenberg adds that farmed salmon is not as bad as some think, pointing to the argument that some believe farmed salmon could affect the wild salmon gene pool. In reality, most farmed salmon comes from Chile where “there are no wild salmon,” writes Brody. “There is little chance that those farmed fish will cross the Equator and mingle genetically with our wild stock.”

4. Step Outside the Salmon Box: The aversion to shellfish could be doing more harm than good for other fish. It’s time to step outside the usual salmon menu to make sure overfishing one species doesn’t continue. “Other species have all but disappeared from seafood counters and restaurant menus,” Brody writes, adding that “stocks of cod have declined so much from overfishing that many Northeastern fisheries were forced to shut down before the entire species disappeared.”

She asks: “Where is the orange roughy that was all the rage a decade ago? When was abalone last on a regular seafood menu?” Her suggestion: try mackerel, bluefish, herring or anchovies instead of salmon. To replace shrimp, try mussels that contain an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and are low in cholesterol. Squid and lobster, however, are fairly high in cholesterol.

5. Fish Is Still Good For You: Don’t leave fish off the table. Oily fish including bluefish and sardines are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Numerous studies of fish’s benefits also prove that fish should appear on any dinner menu. Fish consumption is both related to a “reduced risk of strokes” and in one study, a lower risk of heart attack and death, reports Brody.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."