In cooking, the process of clarification entails straining out extraneous muck from liquids so that they might be pure, clear and ideal for consumption. With this series on food terminology we're attempting to do the same.
At our sister site CNN Opinion, author, journalist and underwater filmmaker Claire Nouvian expresses her thoughts on the havoc the international deep sea fishing industry is wreaking on the millennia-old deepwater coral reefs and sponge beds at the bottom of the worlds' oceans. An "oceanocide," she calls deep-sea bottom trawling, as well as "the largest and fastest ecological crime of all time."
"Fish are typically the last wild items on our dinner menu, along with a few mushroom species. Harvesting wild resources means being in tune with what nature can give, as opposed to what we have planned to get from it. So what can the deep sea give us? A scientist has calculated that 'sustainable' fishing in the deep Central Pacific would mean each ship would catch one fish a day. This encourages investors to 'mine' fish populations rather than to exploit them sustainably."
Again, there's that word, "sustainable." We invoked it yesterday when we reported that Whole Foods has launched a sustainability ratings labeling program for the seafood sold at its stores across the country, along with a pledge to stop selling "red rated" - or severely threatened - fish by 2013.
Then we ran a poll, asking readers, "If someone were to ask you what "sustainable" means in the context of food, could you confidently explain the concept?"
For the 61.35% of you who are perhaps a tad less informed than you'd care to be, here's a deeper dive.
Ken Peterson, Communications Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the organization with which Whole Foods is partnering for their ratings tells us, "At Seafood Watch we help sustain wild, diverse and healthy ocean ecosystems that will exist long into the future. We do this by encouraging consumers and businesses to purchase seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that don’t harm the environment. When there is scientific uncertainty, we err on the side of conservation."
"The scientific process behind all our seafood reports is transparent, including the sustainability criteria we take into account in our rankings. It’s available on our website."
In a nutshell (or clamshell, in this case), in the context of seafood, "sustainable" means harvesting and consuming at a rate that will not deplete fish and other marine life faster than their populations can replenish - and there are plenty of factors that weigh into this. Overfishing, climate changes, physical damage to the environment - the sort that's incurred by the trawl nets against which Ms. Nouvian is speaking - are constantly evolving components in a fish breed's viability as a food source in the present or the foreseeable future.
Thus, groups like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Seafood Choices Alliance advise the fishing industry, retailers and consumers on responsible fishing practices (gear types that minimize damage, redefining parameters of protected areas, fishing quotas) and environmentally conscious decisions at restaurants and in the marketplace. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
"IUU" or illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing - also known as "pirate fishing" is often the hitch. Boats that buck governmental regulations, domestically, and especially internationally, can severely over-fish and irresponsibly fish in areas that are in danger of seafood stock depletion.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, this practice not only harms the economy of coastal countries and the responsible fishermen who operate there and undermines efforts to manage fisheries properly, but also jeopardizes efforts to maintain enough fish for current and future generations.
Because these IUU operations are not beholden to docking fees, tariffs, or required maintenance and adjustments to vessels and equipment, they can often undercut the prices of legitimate fisheries in the marketplace. That leaves shoppers and restaurant diners on the hook to make smart, responsible decisions about the seafood they put in their bodies.
Want to get all hands on deck?
- When in doubt, ask your server, chef, store manager or fishmonger where they source their fish. If they can't or won't tell you that it's from a legal distributor, and is sustainably fished, vote with your wallet and don't order or buy it. They'll get the message.
- Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium's pocket guide or mobile app for ocean-friendly seafood. It's constantly updated to reflect the conditions in regions around the country. Seafoodchoices.org maintains a list of guides and resources as well.
And "sustainable" farming? That's a whole other kettle of fish. Stay tuned for the next installment of Clarified and we'll explain.
CNN Opinion - Deep sea fishing is 'oceanocide'
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