September 14th, 2010
09:30 PM ET
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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."

She writes,

"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?"

The results:

I surely could. 33.11%
I *think* I know, but could probably use more info. 28.03%
I get the basic concept, but couldn't necessarily articulate it. 18.7%
I'm not sure, at all, but I'd like to know. 14.62%
Don't know and don't care. 5.11%
Other 0.44%

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. 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'

Previously - Whole Foods launches sustainability ratings and Chef Rick Moonen shares 5 fish that deserve a break

soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Michelle Madden

    Thanks for sharing this info ... i love fish and try to eat responsibly - the other issue that comes up all the time is the mercury levels in fish. i learned recently that there are huge differences in mercury levels even among one type of fish. eg solid white canned tuna has 3x the mercury of chunk light tuna. i wrote about this eye-opening fact on my blog, here ...

    September 19, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  2. fernando

    Your mom's dirty sanchez...

    September 17, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  3. Michael Petit

    Of course, the only really 'sustainable' seafood is that which is not caught and eaten in the first place...

    September 16, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  4. The_Mick

    I see that 5.11% of those polled were members of the Tea Party!

    September 16, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  5. TAMMY!

    I dispatch tow trucks.

    September 16, 2010 at 3:15 am |
    • RichardHead

      OTR Driver so I won't even go there.

      September 16, 2010 at 3:20 am |
    • RichardHead

      O.K.- the bars are closing so I won't keep you. Thanks for the chat. Have a good early morning.

      September 16, 2010 at 3:49 am |
  6. TAMMY!

    BTW I wish It could be my bed time but I'm stuck at work

    September 16, 2010 at 2:58 am |
    • RichardHead

      Sorry-what type of work do you do? If you get a chance ,go to the Fish Kill thread and let me know what you think.

      September 16, 2010 at 3:11 am |
  7. TAMMY!

    No... but it does look like it

    September 16, 2010 at 2:45 am |
    • RichardHead

      Well hopefully he/she doesn't have to tie them. Wonder if they glow in the dark when they have a sock hop?

      September 16, 2010 at 2:56 am |
  8. TAMMY!

    The "glowing sucker octopus" looks like he is wearing work boots

    September 16, 2010 at 2:16 am |
    • RichardHead

      This is Ludicrous- formely known as Lucy-It is way past your bed time.

      September 16, 2010 at 2:23 am |
  9. Josh

    to answer the original question...

    Kegel Exercise is the key to sustainable fish. Especially when that fish gets older.

    September 15, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
    • BobBobBob

      Ah... that explains why you are so tight.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  10. PhilipShade

    There pretty much aren't any sustainable fish as long as trawlers are scraping the ocean floor clean and leaving underwater desserts behind. Japan is particularly heinous in their fishing methods. Things are only going to get worse as emerging markets like China become more affluent.

    Do a YouTube search on "finning" and see just a taste of whats to come.

    September 15, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • sludbucket

      You got that right! How about we develop an appetite for the flying carp waiting to enter the Great Lakes? We can kill off every other species so why not them?? Bring in the trawlers and sell the carp as delicacies. Once all the good stuff is gone, we'll learn to eat anything anyhow.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  11. Popeye

    All fish are sustainable as long as the populations are carefully monitored and maintained at a healthy and vigorous level.

    September 15, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
    • sludbucket

      That said, I'm sure everything will work out just fine, now that we've placed our childrens' future at the mercy of the wisdom of greedy men of political influence.

      September 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  12. mike

    there can be no sustainable ANYTHING with +6 billion people on the planet.

    September 15, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • sludbucket

      and got that right!!

      September 16, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  13. JEM

    We are constantly told to eat more fish yet we also can't hunt fish in the wild nor
    can we farm fish or grow GE fish. From where are fish to come from?

    September 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • Truth

      I am fortunate enough to live in Colorado, so I always have a freezer full, especially during the season.

      September 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • RichardHead

      I like goldfish,excellent bar snack. They come in colors now too.

      September 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Popeye

      Just put some Talpia in a bucket or kiddie pool. They thrive in by the roads in ditches in many countries. They are easier to raise than carp and taste better too.

      September 15, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • sludbucket

      Just like grazing too many cows too long in too small a field.; everything erodes and it takes a hundred years to bring it back. But it never is quite the same again. The prospects don't look too good for our planet. The US was never any great steward of the planet but, now that China has taken over the role of world developer, you aint seen nothin yet! The human race knows this but who's to be the first to back off as long as there's a profit to be made? And MAN is supposedly the most intelligent creature! LOL

      September 16, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  14. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    "In a nutshell (or clamshell, in this case)...."

    September 15, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants

      Oops. Hit "Post" too soon. Boss was coming.

      The remainder of my post: "Aren't we quick this morning?"

      September 15, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  15. Thomas

    Don't worry. The Tea Party will expose this Big Government conspiracy. It's our right to extract every trace of protein from the oceans.

    September 15, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  16. bailoutsos

    genetic enhanced fish -- "FDA regulations allow genetically modified animals to be evaluated under the same rules as veterinary pharmaceuticals" - So, they will use the same rules that the FDA uses for dog and cat drugs to evaluate food for human consumption? Something seems wrong.

    September 15, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • JEM

      Let the market do the regulating. Let the consumers decide what level of risk they wish to take.

      Do you really think the state has more interest in your welfare than someone who wants you as a

      September 15, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
      • bailoutsos

        Can soylent green be cooked on a grill?

        September 15, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
      • Thomas

        Do you really think fishermen will stop before they are all gone?

        September 16, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
      • sludbucket

        Private enterprise will deplete the oceans of every last species as long as there is profit in doing it. International laws won't help because fishing fleets in most countries, other than the US, are not forced by their governments, to comply to the laws. Sorry to say it but, just like the buffalo only exists on preserves and farms, such is the future of the ocean's species. Collectively, man is too greedy, (and not smart enough) to stop raping the environment for his private benefit. Whereas one can buy a chunk of land and protect it environmentally, the same is not true of the oceans. And most don't even care because they'll be dead and gone before the "crap really hits the fan".

        September 16, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
      • Adiff

        "Let the market regulate it" completely misses the point. There is no market for common goods. In order for 'the market' to function, someone or something has to own it. Please see Garret Hardin. The problem with 'the oceans', i.e. pelagic fishes, is that no one owns them. Somehow an effective 'ownership' has to be developed. This doesn't have to be an absolute ownership or anything of that kind....but it does have to entail possession of an enforceable right to arbitrate utilization. Once that's in place, then, and only then, can a market begin to work...and it will. But only under those circumstances.

        September 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
      • Conrad

        Its just delusional to think that someone who wants me as a customer has my best interests in mind. I think most big sellers have already proven they'd just as soon pretend they weren't poisoning or stealing from you long enough to make a small fortune.
        Man, I can think of so many things that are sold that simply aren't in the interest of the consumer – liquor, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, illicit drugs, GMO/anti-biotic drenched foods, guns, MMPORPGs, plastic, fast food, 'reality' TV, soda, candy, chips, cake, ice-cream, self-hate that compells you to buy 'self-improvement' products such as make-up and hair dye ... the list goes on. I don't think a single person selling any of the stuff listed really has anyones best interest in mind other than thier own drive to make a buck.

        We need regulation because not all people are honest – and frankly, the whole buyer beware thing just doens't hold when so much money is put into advertising that specifically aims to target peoples weaknesses so they'll buy crap to make themselves 'feel better'.

        September 16, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
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