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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Fish Food

Air Date: Week of

Can seafood lovers satisfy their appetites while keeping ocean species healthy? Host Steve Curwood talks with Vikki Spruill, executive director of SeaWeb, about some new guidelines to choosing the ecologically right fish for dinner.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Think danger and seafood and you probably think food poisoning, mercury contamination, maybe even red tide. Some marine conservation groups are taking a different tack. Instead of asking what fish can do to us, they're concerned with what we're doing to the fish. They've enlisted hundreds of chefs over the past few years to choose the fish they serve based on environmental criteria. Now they're trying to reach consumers before consumers reach the marketplace. They're offering lists to help orient seafood lovers in the world of ocean ecology. I asked Vikki Spruill, who directs the nonprofit educational project Sea Web, which fish get the green light for consumption.

SPRUILL: I would put on my better list, and right at the top of that list, Alaskan wild salmon, which has recently been certified by an organization called the Marine Stewardship Council. And this spring,, you'll actually be able to see labeled product in your grocery stores. So, Alaskan wild salmon at the top of the list. Striped bass, mackerel. Most farmed shellfish, like clams and oysters and scallops. Farmed catfish. Mahi-mahi. Tilapia. I think those would be on my list.

CURWOOD: But what about the fish you avoid the most? What are the ten fish that you, through your work, have come to decide you really don't think you should eat because of ecological concerns?

SPRUILL: At the top of the list would be farmed salmon and farmed shrimp. Chilean sea bass. Orange roughie. Sharks. Almost all of them are long-lived and slow reproducers. Bluefin tuna. Groupers. The tropical species; most all are overfished. That would be on my caution list.

CURWOOD: Anyone listening to us would have said: Salmon? Farmed salmon is bad and wild salmon in Alaska is good? I thought the wild salmon in a lot of trouble and farmed salmon is, well, it's better for the environment.

SPRUILL: A lot of people think that, and it's a problem. All aquaculture is not created equal. And it's true, we've even done some research that indicates that people think, when they buy farmed salmon, they're buying something better for the environment. But unfortunately, the way salmon is farmed today is destructive to the environment for the most part. Antibiotics, excess feed put in the pens, which creates nutrient pollution. Escape of farmed fish into wild populations, so you get disease events and habitat destruction. But not all aquiculture is bad. There are some good examples of aquiculture, too. Farmed scallops, clams, oysters, Tilapia, catfish. And this is yet another example of how we as consumers need to be a lot better educated about the seafood we eat.

CURWOOD: What criteria were used for making these lists?

SPRUILL: Are these fish being overfished? Are they well-managed? Is there too much waste in the fishery? Are habitats affected when the fish are caught? This is really a whole new conversation about raising awareness of the fact that the seafood choices we make have environmental impacts. And it is a new way to think about fish. We tend to think only about the health concerns, which of course are also significant.

CURWOOD: When you compare the health concerns with environmental ones when it comes to seafood, are there crossovers, contradictions?

SPRUILL: Absolutely. You know, if you're thinking only in terms of health concerns, you want to eat younger fish that haven't been in the ocean long enough to accumulate some of the contaminants. If you're thinking only in environmental terms, you want to eat fish that are older and have had a chance to reproduce. So that's a paradox.

CURWOOD: Listening to you talk, consumers are going to say "boy, I need help on this." All the fish that you like, the really important qualifiers, and the ones that you don't think should be consumed, again there are a lot of qualifiers. What should people take away from these lists?

SPRUILL: I think people should take away that there really are good choices, that there is no one size fits all solution for fisheries. There are hundreds of different fish from hundreds of different regions of the world. It's not like we're talking about a chicken or a cow. Every fish species is different. Eat more fish. But pick fish on the right lists, and pick fish that's good for the environment.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

SPRUILL: Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Vikki Spruill is Excutive Director of Sea Web. You can find links to the seafood list on our Web site: www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org.







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