Best choices for the planet: big fish or little fish?


Recently I interviewed Mike McDermid manager of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, about why we all need to be careful to choose sustainable fish and seafood. He had many valuable things to say on the topic but our discussion about whether we should eat big fish or little fish was particularly interesting. 

Overfishing and habitat damage have led to massive species declines, even extinctions, and have caused dramatic shifts in ocean ecosystems. Within the past century, 90% of all large fish species are gone; we are now fishing the last 10%. The good news is that as consumers we can help to reverse these trends by choosing seafood that is harvested in a sustainable manner,” explained Mike.

Which led me to ask him if that meant we should be eating sardines and anchovies and foregoing salmon and tuna?

His reply:

“I’m not sure if it is important – I included that statistic to illustrate where we are currently with respect to commercial fisheries and the dire need to start considering where our fish are coming from. There are sustainable fisheries for large fish species, making them a good option, but I wanted to illustrate that the oceans are not this “endless bounty” that we once considered them to be.

Having said that, there are a lot of proponents to eating lower on the food chain (the smaller fishes that are prey for larger predatory ones). The selective removal of larger fish species has thrown many marine ecosystems out of balance.  Smaller fish species do tend to be more resilient to fishing pressure because they have shorter lifespans (commonly) and produce more offspring. But, some species of tuna, for example, also exhibit fast growth, short lifespans, and produce a lot of offspring as well. As you can see, it very much depends on the exact species and fishery that we are talking about and generalizing can be very difficult.”

Because my husband Martin Kouprie has long been a member of associations such as the Endangered Fish Alliance and now Ocean Wise, I’ve  been trained to make my fish choices carefully.  How about you? Do you choose fish based on the recipe you plan to make or choose the recipe based upon the fish that experts like the Vancouver Aquarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium deem most suitable?

Tip: By the way, If you have an iphone, you might like to download this free Seafood Watch application that you can use at restaurants and grocery stores to make planet-friendly fish and seafood choices.



8 Responses to Best choices for the planet: big fish or little fish?

  1. I really like Seafood Watch on the iPod Touch/iPhone. There’s much more detail than in the cardboard version.

  2. Peter says:

    Looking for fresh, viable source of fish that’s delish? Look for fresh sardines or mackerel…hard to beat when grilled.

  3. Having read Taras Grescoe’s book “Bottomfeeder” I’m now aware of the importance of my seafood choices. He has a very good summary that helps you make ethical choices. I highly recommend this book to anyone who eats fish or seafood. It’s well-written and surprisingly entertaining given the topic.

    While I”m on a roll… I’m appalled that the endangered Chilean sea bass in not only still on menus but a regular feature in Food Network shows like Top Chef.

  4. danamccauley says:

    I’m also appalled by the sea bass issue Charmian. Martin and I have called it out at a number of restaurants and the response we get is often really annoying: shrugged shoulders. Obviously many people just don’t get how important this issue is to all of us.

  5. I’m also no longer eating monkfish because of bottom trolling. And what gets me is you’ll see these endangered items in restaurants that promote local / organic / sustainable foods — providing it’s convenient. Oh, don’t get me started…

    The scariest thing is not that we won’t have any fish. We’ll have fish. Plenty of it. And it will ALL be from the bottom of the food chain. As Grescoe says, we’ll have a steady diet of peanut butter and jellyfish.

  6. Diva says:

    Great post, Dana. I’m not a huge seafood eater, but I’ve been using the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s list ever since visiting there 8 years ago.

    On another note – thanks for the link to your husband’s restaurant. Love the menu! I want the Ham Trio now … please send it immediately. Thank you! 😉

  7. Psychgrad says:

    I’m just trying to get into fish and haven’t tried many varieties, but I would like to learn more about sustainable fish.

  8. Kevin says:

    It is always good to know more about where your food is coming from. Thanks for the info and links.

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