Posts Tagged ‘sustainable seafood’


Posted on January 21, 2012 - by

Don’t Be Fooled by Fish Fraud, It’s More Common Than You Think


The following article comes from Justin Boevers, Development & Outreach Manager at FishChoice.

The “Mystery Fish” story in December’s edition of Consumer Reports Magazine shed further light on an important issue – the widespread mislabeling of seafood. This particular study found that nearly 50% of seafood tested in the New England area was incorrectly labeled. This is not the first study of its kind. Three years ago, the “Imposter Fish” article was published in Conservation Magazine summarizing the efforts of eight students from Stanford who collected 77 samples and found that 60% were incorrectly labeled.

Why is this epidemic happening? First, certain fish command a premium price in the market and pawning off a less valuable species as a higher demand item is a big profit. Secondly, it’s easy. Fish lose most of their distinguishing characteristics during processing and because average seafood consumption is low and a lot of seafood is prepared with value-added elements, it is difficult for most consumers to know if the seafood they are eating is the same product as labeled or advertised.

Oceana, an organization leading the way on addressing the issue of “fish fraud” summarizes some of the main problems the epidemic of seafood mislabeling causes:

  • Food Safety – the actual seafood species may contain contaminants that might not be expected of the species identified on the label.
  • Undermines Choice – consumers trying to make responsible seafood choices are prevented from doing so when what they buy according to the label doesn’t match the fish inside.
  • Abundance Confusion – consumers get mixed messages when they hear that certain fish are no longer abundant, but see these species’ names on mislabeled menus and packaging.
  • Most common types of seafood that have been identified as mislabeled:

    • Farmed salmon being sold as wild salmon
    • Imported farmed shrimp being sold as wild, domestic shrimp
    • Tilapia being sold as red snapper, especially in sushi
    • Catfish and pangasius being sold as flounders and groupers

    What can you do?

    • Learn about the fish you like to eat. Learn the scientific name and the marketing names, the seasonality of the fish, what fish may be able to be passed off as the species in question, and eat it enough to know how it tastes differently than similar fish.
    • Ask your waiter or seafood counter staff about where the fish is from and how it was caught. If they know how, where and when it was caught, then feel confident that it is correctly labeled.
    • Request the species, origin and fishing/farming method be voluntarily displayed on menus, seafood cases, and packaging. Only those that are completely confident that their seafood is what they say it is will put it out there for all the world to see.

    Do you have more questions or thoughts to share on the subject of fish fraud? Leave a comment below!

    Justin Boevers is the Outreach and Development Manager for FishChoice.com. Justin helps small and medium-sized business understand the issues around sustainable seafood and helps them find responsible sources. FishChoice is a nonprofit that runs a free, B2B website connecting businesses that buy or sell sustainable seafood. You can follow FishChoice on Twitter and like their facebook page to stay up to speed on sustainable seafood issues and developments.

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    Posted on September 16, 2011 - by

    Sustainable restaurant realities: If it won’t sell, we can’t offer it

    Today’s guest writer is Johanna Kolodny, the forager for Print Restaurant in Manhattan, discussing the challenges of getting customers to try unfamiliar seafood in restaurants.

    Variety may be the spice of life, but at Print we tend to stick to the same fish, which include but are not limited to snapper, halibut, black sea bass, and salmon. At any one time, we have two if not three fish entrees on the menu. The chef continues to buy these fish because they sell. Don’t get me wrong, these are delicious choices, but I’d like to introduce new options to our menu. By diversifying the seafood that we eat, there is less danger that any one species will be overfished.

    Some of the fish that I’ve offered the chef include flounder, hake, haddock, pollack, Gulf of Maine rockfish, bluefish, and sheepshead, but he has rejected these options. I think he believes they won’t sell, hence he’s not taking a chance. The chef once bought golden tilefish and it barely sold, so he said he’d never buy it again. In the end, I can’t really blame him because this is a business. He’s tried amberjack and triggerfish several times, but they were also not very popular. And from personal experience, I can tell you that these fish all tasted absolutely divine.

    I suspect there are two reasons customers don’t buy these fish. The first is that they’ve never heard of it. Secondly, people think of these fish as being “lower grade.” At least these are my best guesses. The chef would buy practically any fish as long as it sold (not including endangered or threatened species), but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to convince the chef that these fish will sell and then actually following through with my promise. Waitstaff education is definitely key, but what else can I do? Or perhaps I’m not offering the proper education? I do repeatedly tell the staff that they can always seek me out to ask any questions.

    When eating at other restaurants, I wonder how they sell the fish that either don’t sell at Print or that the chef is hesitant to buy? What is their selling strategy? Do they even have to push the dishes? Who are their customers? And how do we get those customers to our restaurant? Not only do I want people who have more open minds and are adventurous, but I also want to change customers’ perceptions about a fish they might not otherwise eat. These are just some of the questions that I think about daily.

    How do you decide to order something new at restaurants? For me, when I go to a restaurant that I either like or anticipate I’ll enjoy, I trust that the chef won’t serve something that isn’t scrumptious. So, every menu item is fair game. Of course, mood and cravings do play a role in one’s choices. However, if I’m in the mood for seafood, then I am willing to try any of the three fish on the menu, for instance. So the next time you are dining out and see an unfamiliar fish on the menu, don’t be shy, ask the staff some questions, and give the dish a shot. You never know, you may have just discovered your new favorite food.

    For more information on Johanna Kolodny’s work as a forager, check out the Print Restaurant blog: http://www.printrestaurant.com/blog/

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    Posted on September 1, 2011 - by

    When Waltzing with the Naked Chef, Hold On to Your Seachoice Seafood Guide


    Photo: Blue Water Cafe

    Today’s guest post is courtesy of Ana Simeon from Sierra Club BC and Seachoice.

    You’re watching your favourite cooking show and the chef is putting together something mouth-watering like “Pan-Seared Chilean Seabass” or “Grilled Monkfish with Olive Sauce.”

    Enthused, you may be tempted to rush out to get the Chilean seabass. With candles and wine, the meal is a success and your culinary prowess toasted by your family and guests. And then a niggling thought pricks the bubble of contentment: isn’t Chilean seabass on the taboo list? You look up “Chilean Seabass” on your Seachoice iPhone app and, true enough, there’s a long laundry list of crimes against the ocean – from illegal overfishing (over 50% of Chilean seabass on the market is thought to be illegally obtained) to by-catch of internationally endangered wandering albatross and grey-headed albatross. Oh dear, oh dear!

    Although many chefs are beginning to take ocean health into account when concocting their creations, this is a process that has taken root most strongly at the restaurant level, but has yet to penetrate the TV networks.

    Does it mean you have to stop watching those benighted cooking shows? Not at all. For every red-listed fish there is a delicious, and more sustainable, alternative waiting to take its place. For example, sablefish has been described as the “fish version of chocolate” and its smooth, silky taste (with 50% more Omega 3’s than salmon) more than holds its own against the commercially touted Chilean seabass. To get you started, here’s a recipe for Caramelized Sablefish with Tangy Orange-Tamarind Sauce from Vancouver’s fabled Blue Water Café: http://houseandhome.com/food/recipes/sablefish-caramelized-soy-and-sake-recipe

    As a cooking show viewer, you’re also in a perfect position to educate chefs and networks about sustainable seafood. Call in or drop them an email – spread the word!

    The table below lists ocean-friendly substitutes for red-listed seafood in your favourite recipes:

    Red-Listed Species Best Choice Alternative
    Chilean Seabass Sablefish(AK, BC)
    Cobia (US Farmed)
    King Crab Dungeness Crab (Canada; US West Coast)
    Flounder or Sole Halibut (Pacific)
    Marlin (Blue or Striped) Swordfish (harpoon and handline from Canada,
    North Atlantic and East Pacific)
    Monkfish Sablefish (AK, BC)
    Orange Roughy Pacific Cod (Alaska)
    Red Snapper Tilapia (US farmed)

    We’d love to hear of your experiences substituting these ocean-friendly choices! Email us at info@seachoice.org or comment below.

    Ana Simeon works as communications coordinator and grassroots organizer for Sierra Club BC and Seachoice, a coalition of five internationally respected Canadian conservation organizations working to shift the market to sustainable seafood. Ana also writes for BC print and online media on environmental topics. Providing social media and online content for Seachoice taps into her passion for local food, food security and all things culinary.

    Ana enjoys hiking, bird-watching, and grows a sizeable vegetable garden with her husband Tom. On cold, rainy days, she keeps to her fireside with a book from her extensive collection of 1930 British detective fiction.

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    Posted on August 17, 2011 - by

    For Fish, Age is Not Just a Number


    Image: Flickr/nhankamer

    Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by FishWise, a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings.

    Yes, all aquatic animals have birthdays. Some live for a matter of days or weeks, and others can live forever. (Yes, really.)

    Although we can’t ask a fish its age (it’s simply impolite), there are ways we can determine the length of time that an individual fish has been alive. One popular method for aging fish involves analyzing bones in their heads called otoliths (“oto” meaning ear and “lith” meaning stone). When an otolith is removed from a fish, sectioned into thin slices and viewed through a microscope, it reveals a pattern of light and dark concentric rings. The darker, denser rings are often formed in the winter when growth is slow and in the warmer months, when a fish is growing more quickly, a clearer ring is formed. A pair of rings is called an “annuli” and is similar to the rings found in trees. Count the annuli and you can determine a fish’s age.

    So what does this have to do with the seafood you buy and eat? Often, slow-growing fish take a long time to reach reproductive age, which leads to a greater risk of that fish being caught, or dying of natural causes, before it has a chance to reproduce. Consider the orange roughy, which takes around 30 years to reach sexual maturity. Whenever you take a fish that is younger than that out of the water, that fish has not had a chance to reproduce, which in turn affects the abundance and diversity of the next generation. Additionally, you run the risk of negatively affecting other animals in the food chain.

    This would all be easier to swallow if fisherman were catching a responsible amount of orange roughy, taking into account the number of fish in each year class becoming sexually mature and selectively catching only those individuals. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and instead we are seeing fewer, younger and smaller orange roughy reach our plates.

    There are a number of species that are characterized by a very high growth rate and abundance, Pacific sardines being an excellent example. Most sardine fisheries are considered a “Super Green” option by the Monterey Bay Aquarium due to these biological factors and because they are generally well-managed and recognized for their low levels of bycatch and clean fishing techniques. Choices that are similarly sustainable are handline-caught mahi mahi from the U.S. Atlantic and U.S. farmed crawfish.

    We don’t suggest you memorize the longevity of all of your favorite seafood; scientists have done that for you. Rankings systems such as that by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program take longevity and reproduction rates into account, so shop for seafood only on the green and yellow lists and you’re assured they’ll be around for you to eat well into your twilight years.

    FishWise is a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings through environmentally responsible business practices, such as policy development, employee training, sourcing assistance and point of sale information. This approach empowers consumer to make environmentally informed choices when purchasing seafood.

    To learn more about sustainable seafood, visit www.fishwise.org or sign up for their mailing list.

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    Posted on August 1, 2011 - by

    Mercury in Seafood: How to enjoy your fish without going mad

    Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by FishWise, a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings.

    Mercury is a toxic metal that builds up in the food chain and can be found in some popular seafood items, posing a health risk to those who frequently eat them. Developing infants and young children are at the highest risk for mercury contamination and may suffer brain damage and learning disabilities from prolonged or repeated exposure, so it is important for women of child-bearing age to minimize their consumption of fish containing high levels of mercury.

    Mercury is found naturally in the environment, but levels have increased dramatically since the rise of industrialization in the 19th century. Mercury enters natural water bodies via rain and surface water run off, where it can be converted by bacteria to an organic form called methylmercury. This form of mercury is more toxic and bioaccumulates through the food chain, which is why large predatory species like shark and swordfish are typically higher in mercury than species like anchovy, Alaskan salmon, and shellfish that are lower in the food chain.

    Other contaminants which can be found in seafood are PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, which are toxic industrial compounds. As with mercury, they pose serious health risks to developing infants and children, who may suffer developmental and neurological problems from prolonged or repeated exposure. PCBs are carcinogenic and thus harmful to adults as well. Although they were banned from manufacturing in the United States in 1977, PCBs are slow to break down and can persist in the environment at dangerous levels.

    For a guide to seafood choices that are tested to be both low* in contaminants and more environmentally responsible**, download a copy of FishWise’s Seafood Low Mercury List, developed in collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund.

    * Safe for a 154 lb adult to eat 8 oz a week or a 144 lb woman of child bearing age to eat 6 oz a week, based on EPA standards and currently available data on mercury and PCBs
    ** ‘Best Choices’ or ‘Good Alternatives’ according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program

    References:
    http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=15903
    http://www.usgs.gov/themes/factsheet/146-00/

    FishWise is a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings through environmentally responsible business practices, such as policy development, employee training, sourcing assistance and point of sale information. This approach empowers consumer to make environmentally informed choices when purchasing seafood.

    To learn more about sustainable seafood, visit www.fishwise.org or sign up for their mailing list.

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    Posted on July 21, 2011 - by

    Smart Phones Helping Us Make Smart Seafood Decisions

    Today’s guest blog post is brought to you by FishWise, a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings.

    Let’s face it–choosing sustainable seafood can be difficult. The sustainability of a particular species depends not only on the inherent vulnerability of the species itself, but also on where and how it was caught.

    To figure this out, there are apps that place extensive information at our fingertips and conveniently guide our responsible seafood choices. Nowadays, living in a wireless world, the Seafood Watch app for iPhone and Android has replaced the Seafood Watch card in our wallet provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Blue Ocean Institute also has its FishPhone app in addition to their printed guides.

    For some consumers, knowing the location and method of catch is not enough! They want to be able to trace their fish back to the source. Some of you can visit local fish markets that generally work very closely with the fishermen themselves, however, most seafood buyers rely on their local grocery store for their seafood needs. Even for experts who work in the seafood industry, tracing seafood back to the source is challenging since the seafood supply chain can be extremely complex.

    To go one step further, there are now companies who allow consumers to go online and trace the product back to the source by entering a code on the package in their hands.

    Partnering with Trace Register™ – the global food traceability company, Kwik’pak Fisheries has developed a tool that allows consumers to trace their Yukon River Salmon back to the source. We can go to their “Trace Your Fish” web page and enter this example code: 103104. We are then presented with information about the product’s nutritional value, the name of the Yupik fishermen who caught it, how they caught and processed the fish, a map showing the catch location and even healthy recipes to try out.

    Some Northern Chef farmed raised shrimp carried by Tai Foong are yellow ranked by the Monterey Bay as well as being traceable. Try this code: 877971002797 and enter it in their Dine Well Shrimp page where we can learn the details about their aquaculture practices, their shrimp quality, and their location in Thailand on the map.

    These companies are at the frontier of traceability and others are guaranteed to follow suit, which is great news for consumers like you. The more information you have at your fingertips when choosing seafood, the better the choices you can make for yourself and the environment.

    FishWise is a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that helps seafood businesses improve the sustainability of their seafood offerings through environmentally responsible business practices, such as policy development, employee training, sourcing assistance and point of sale information. This approach empowers consumer to make environmentally informed choices when purchasing seafood.

    To learn more about sustainable seafood, visit www.fishwise.org or sign up for their mailing list.

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    Posted on July 20, 2011 - by

    How to Be a Salmon Savvy Gourmet


    Photo: Karen Miller/Creative Commons

    Today’s guest post is courtesy of Ana Simeon from Sierra Club BC and Seachoice.

    Figuring out the right salmon to eat is maybe the biggest challenge when it comes to sustainable seafood. There are Pacific and Atlantic, farmed and wild. Then there are all the individual species – sockeye, chinook, coho, chum, and pink – which further divide into “runs,” populations that spawn in the same stream. To complicate matters even further, not all farmed salmon was created equal – there is “open net” and “closed containment”, with very different ecological impacts. If all this makes your head spin, worry not! Follow our Salmon Ladder, an easy step-by-step process to help you navigate the diversity of salmon on the market and the conflicting claims of suppliers. The Salmon Ladder is based on Seachoice’s science-based ranking system developed in collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

    Meet the Hero: Pacific Salmon

    These fish are absolutely amazing and more than worth the effort to get to know, even if they weren’t such a healthy and delicious seafood treat. Salmon are a creature of contrast: they spend most of their lives in the ocean, yet they play a key role in the ecology of the coastal forest. They are delicious and full of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids which sustains bald eagle populations, allows bears to fatten up for the winter, and provides up to half the nitrogen needed by the giant trees of the coastal rainforests. Thanks to instinctual abilities that are still not fully understood, each individual fish comes back to its native stream to spawn. This means that each river and stream has its own genetically distinct population or “run.” This genetic diversity is part of what makes wild salmon such amazing survival artists.

    Meet the Villain: Salmon Farms in the Ocean

    If you look at a map of the West Coast from Alaska to California, you will see hundreds of sheltered bays and inlets. This is where young salmon fry like to hang out and fatten up before swimming out into the open ocean. Unfortunately, these same bays and inlets are dotted with hundreds of giant salmon feedlots.

    Imagine tens of thousands of fish held in net pens in the ocean. Because of overcrowding, they are swarming with parasites and disease and require constant application of chemicals. Wild salmon fry on their migration routes have to run the gauntlet of these farms and are no match for such an assault of parasites, particularly the notorious sea louse. As has been repeatedly demonstrated by research from scientists around the world, sea lice from fish farms are a key factor in killing off young fry. This process has already wiped out the plentiful salmon runs of Scotland, Ireland, Norway and other northern European counties. It will happen in North America, too, unless we, as consumers, stand up for wild salmon by boycotting open-net farmed salmon and demanding sustainable industry practices.

    Farms Belong on Land

    This doesn’t mean we must abandon the idea of salmon farming altogether. Impact on wild fish can be eliminated by keeping the farms on land, like any freshwater aquaculture. This is called closed-containment technology and has been successfully pioneered in Washington State. Look for the SweetSpring brand freshwater Coho, grown and harvested at a land-based closed containment salmon farm. SweetSpring Salmon is rated a SeaChoice “Best Choice.”

    Large salmon farming conglomerates don’t like the idea of closed containment because they would rather have the ocean perform the service of cleaning and aerating the pens for free. This is where you and I come in with our magic cloak: customer power. Please vote with your wallet and tell your friends – withholding your dollar is the kind of feedback that ultimately the industry will not be able to ignore.

    The Salmon Ladder

    Step 1: If a fish is labelled “Farmed Salmon” or “Atlantic salmon,” leave it alone. Atlantic salmon has been fished practically to extinction in the wild so any Atlantic salmon sold commercially comes from open-net feedlots. The fish raised in closed containment are Pacific coho, not Atlantic.

    Step 2: Choose “Farmed Salmon – Closed Containment” if you’re in a rush and don’t have time to investigate various wild salmon options. This is an ocean-friendly, sustainable choice.

    Step 3: With wild salmon, play detective. Your efforts will be amply rewarded by the unbeatably delicious taste. Ask your server where your salmon was caught, then consult your SeaChoice guide or iPhone app for the most up-to-date rankings. The rankings can be different from fishery to fishery, and from species to species, depending on how they were caught and where.

    Download Additional Resources:

    Wait there’s more! Our wild Alaskan salmon are under threat: To learn more about how to protect one of our most valuable sustainable fisheries, check out the FRESH campaign to halt the construction of Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. We are pressuring the EPA to protect this sensitive watershed, rather than supporting corporate interests.

    Ana Simeon works as communications coordinator and grassroots organizer for Sierra Club BC and Seachoice, a coalition of five internationally respected Canadian conservation organizations working to shift the market to sustainable seafood. Ana also writes for BC print and online media on environmental topics. Providing social media and online content for Seachoice taps into her passion for local food, food security and all things culinary.

    Ana enjoys hiking, bird-watching, and grows a sizeable vegetable garden with her husband Tom. On cold, rainy days, she keeps to her fireside with a book from her extensive collection of 1930 British detective fiction.

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