Fish from the oceans were once viewed as an inexhaustible
resource, able to fill nets and put food on our plates without
limit for generations to come. But we’re rapidly proving
the old adage wrong: In the face of human demands, there
just aren’t enough fish in the sea.
The oceans are proving unable to keep up with a growing
demand for seafood that is fueled by population increases
and the industrialization of global fishing fleets. Recent
scientific findings are sobering. Through our fishing efforts,
people have eliminated 90 percent of the large fishes from
the oceans. Today we’re struggling to manage fish
populations that are a fraction of their historic levels.
Yet there are still millions of boats, small and large,
removing billions of pounds of fish from the oceans each
year. Our short-term needs for protein and profit overshadow
the most important goal: to manage fisheries to be sustainable
in the long term. The impacts on our oceans have been devastating,
in four main areas:
We’re taking fish from the water faster than they
can reproduce. Today, more than 70 percent of the world’s
fisheries are at capacity, overexploited, or depleted.
year, fishing fleets accidentally catch billions of pounds
of unwanted marine animals, including sea turtles, sharks,
young fish and seabirds. Snagged in gear aimed at commercial
species, most are tossed overboard, dead or dying.
Vast expanses of seafloor are damaged by fishing gear, including
trawl nets that plow the ocean bottom as efficiently as
tractors in a field. Animals die, and the landscape is altered
in ways that support less diversity of marine life. Even
if the trawling stops, some habitats would need a century
or more to recover.
Unregulated fishing still plagues the high seas, where resource
managers can’t enforce catch limits and other regulations
designed to ensure that fish populations remain healthy
for the long term.
Aquaculture, or the farming of fish and shellfish, was
once thought to be an easy solution—a way to alleviate
pressure on wild species while meeting the growing demand
for seafood. Unfortunately, the technologies of aquaculture
advanced well before we understood the ecological impacts.
Today, one-third of our seafood comes from farmed sources.
And these systems are plagued with the same environmental
impacts as industrialized animal rearing on land: pollution
from animal waste and the spread of disease. The “Blue
Revolution” has raised flags within environmental
and scientific communities.
Fortunately, ecologically responsible fisheries and aquaculture
operations do exist, and a growing sustainable seafood movement
is working to make responsible fisheries standard fare for
the future. The Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay
Aquarium was created to help individual consumers, restaurateurs,
and retailers to use their purchasing power to support these
Through Seafood Watch, we’re working to shift consumer
demand to support ecologically sound fisheries practices.
Our pocket seafood guides and web-based background information
promote seafood that consumers should buy and species to
avoid, all based on the environmental sustainability of
And it’s working. Consumers are changing their buying
patterns. Restaurants and retailers are offering sustainable
choices—and teaching their customers about the importance
of choosing sustainable seafood.
For us, it’s not about limiting options. It’s
about identifying an abundance of great choices that are
available and sustainable. Wild salmon, Pacific halibut,
farmed tilapia, Dungeness crab, and shellfish are all Seafood
Watch “Best Choices.” Think about how much thought
people put into selecting the right bottle of wine at a
restaurant, from scanning the wine list to talking with
the server about possible alternatives. If we put half the
effort into selecting seafood that we do into choosing the
right wine, we’d be a long way toward assuring the
future health of ocean wildlife.
And we are talking about wildlife—the last wildlife
on Earth that we hunt on a large commercial scale for food.
We have a chance today to save the ocean’s magnificent
top predators, many of which, like the tunas, are prized
commercial catches. Or, we can stand by while they slide
toward extinction like their terrestrial counterparts—the
tigers, pandas, and countless less charismatic but unique
Because the concept for Seafood Watch is simple—people
can make a difference for ocean wildlife through their seafood
choices—it’s having significant impacts. For
example, two of our members were invited to attend a special
dinner at Yosemite National Park. Chilean sea bass was on
the menu—a species to avoid until its fishing operations
no longer harm the marine environment. With our help, they
wrote the park concessionaire explaining why Chilean sea
bass and other species should not be on the menu in a place
dedicated to preserving natural resources. As a result,
the concessionaire took Chilean sea bass off the menu for
that event. Then it went further, removing all “avoid”
species from the menu at Yosemite and seven other national
parks. This simple action is now helping to reach millions
of park guests each year.
Today, millions of Seafood Watch pocket guides are being
distributed. They can be found at Mount Rushmore, at Patagonia
clothing stores, at community and co-op markets throughout
the West, at zoos and aquariums nationwide, in corporate
dining halls. The guides can also be quickly downloaded
off the web, at www.seafoodwatch.org.
Using Seafood Watch guides, each of us can use our buying
power as consumers to shape market demand. As we do, this
demand will influence the supply, bringing more sustainable
seafood into the marketplace.
We invite you to get involved in working toward a healthy
future for our oceans. Learn more about sustainable seafood,
share what you know, and most important, enjoy!
Julie Packard, Executive Director The Monterey Bay Aquarium