Anxiety Around A Seafood Restaurant Table

Sardines going way too fast for a real shot, but I think its interestingly blurred

Alongside the path of adopting a more green lifestyle I’ve made some rather enormous changes in how and what I eat.  I’ve never been much of a carnivore.  Most people aren’t surprised to find that I eschew pork entirely and its rare-beyond-rare to see me chow down on red meat of any kind.  I like chicken but its not a consistent element in my diet.  Neither is seafood. 

I love seafood.  Scallops, clams, shrimp, fillets, steaks, ahi, sushi, sashimi, seaweed salad and all the rest are a welcome site on my dinner plate.  I enjoyed a delightful dinner with my family and sister tonight at a favorite seafood restaurant in Port Canaveral but we developed a sense of anxiety around the table… or at least I did.  Why?  They were offering up everything from shrimp to thresher shark to ahi to wahoo on the menu.  And seafood comes at a high price these days.  Improper management of stocks has led to virtual and actual collapses in several commercially important species. 

In many cases the target species is not the only one impacted.  I took part in research interested in identifying a chemoattractant found in female horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) that made them excellent bait for the American eel, Anguilla rostrata.  Who eats American eel, you ask?  Well, not many Americans but eel is a favored item in Japanese cuisine.  American eels were often shipped out to supply the international market.  Demand for our eels created a demand for bait to catch them with which added to the human stressors upon horseshoe crab populations.  The research – which is still ongoing – had the ultimate goal of synthetically approximating the attractant and using it in a bait matrix made from something other than the real crabs!

Sometimes the trickle down effect is more immediate and dramatic.  Bycatch is a common word in the language of marine conservation and for wretched reasons.  Millions of nontarget fish, sharks, sea turtles, and other critters are killed inadvertently by gear set out for valuable fish humans are interested in consuming. 

Advances in commercial fishing technology – most notably through the SmartGear competition – and in regulation have started us in the right direction but the problem of bycatch may truly find resolution only through the limits of the free market.  There is a familiar phrase: When the buying stops, the killing can too.  If we choose to only consume fish that is sustainably caught or raised we can shape the market and pressure the commercial fisheries to conform to practices that ensure healthy, thriving oceans. 

How do you know if something was sustainably caught?  Check out any of the ocean-friendly seafood guides available online (Blue Ocean Institute, MBARI: Seafood Watch).  In most cases you can print out a pocket-sized guide or even make use of an immediate mobile service – the Fish Phone – to clue you into greenlit seafood and end, forever, anxiety around a seafood restaurant table.