Help end overfishing by being adventurous at the fish counter

Timothy Fitzgerald

Tim, a senior policy specialist, leads EDF’s sustainable seafood program. You can follow him on Twitter @hawaiifitz
Published February 5, 2016 in Oceans

Who doesn’t love shrimp, salmon or tuna? Seafood is like anything else: We know what we like and changing habits can be hard.

Plus, how do you prepare a longnose skate wing or a monkfish tail, anyway?

I’ll admit I haven’t always been the most adventurous buyer at the fish counter, but that’s something I hope to change.

Habits like mine explain why more than 90 percent of the seafood we consume in America, a country blessed with thousands of miles of coastline, is imported.

The truth is, sustainably caught, American seafood has a whole lot more to offer than we think. Today, chefs all over the nation are creating exciting and delicious new dishes using lesser known fish such as lingcod and redfish.

And slowly but surely, consumers are responding. With small changes in their fish diet, they are already having an impact.

From ocean to plate 

Most major supermarket chains have pledged to source more sustainable seafood and cut back on fish that isn’t. Annual chef surveys, meanwhile, show that locally caught and sustainable seafood are now among top trends on restaurant menus.

That is, in turn, changing the entire market for seafood, from ocean to plate. Because by purchasing these sustainable, yet underappreciated fish, from restaurants and markets, consumers are also helping  support well-managed fisheries, healthy fish populations and fishermen who are doing things right.

Consumers have also been pleased to learn that some of those sustainable species cost less than the more well-known fish – and that they’re healthier to eat.

In some cases smaller species of fish are easier to manage and fish sustainably. But  those same species can also be high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury and other contaminants.

The choice is yours

The United States has made outstanding progress in the last decade when it comes to ending overfishing and making American fisheries more sustainable.

It means that some previously taboo choices – such as California rockfish or Gulf grouper – suddenly deserve to return to your dinner plate.   

With more and more seafood products available, from more and more places, tools such as the Seafood Selector and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program are keeping us straight as our choices of sustainably caught fish is once again expanding.

So how about cooking that monkfish tail? Look up a recipe, or better yet, get to know the fishmonger behind the seafood counter at your local market or grocery store.

I bet he or she is dying to tell you how to prepare it, and would probably be pleasantly surprised you asked.

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