We eat a lot of seafood in the US. But some it has a negative impact on the environment and the people who produce it.
The popularity of seafood, along with habitat loss and rising ocean temperatures, has led to a decline in many populations of fish and shellfish. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch notes that we have “removed as much as 90 percent of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish and cod from the world’s oceans.” In addition, many fish and shellfish farming operations cause environmental damage, and damage to human health, too. Sadly, some of the fish and shellfish people love to eat is unsustainable, including Atlantic cod and eel. Some shrimp is also problematic, including some farmed shrimp and imported wild-caught shrimp.
Unfortunately, fish and shellfish are also magnets for contaminants, including mercury, organophosphates and other pesticides (from industrial agriculture runoff and from their use in farmed fish), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and even antibiotic residues. (Pregnant women, babies and young children are generally those most susceptible to these contaminants, so check with your doctor.) Choosing wild-caught fish can help reduce the risk of pesticide and antibiotic contamination.
It’s not all bad news, though. There is a vast selection of delicious sustainable seafood available and many fish and shellfish populations have recovered with excellent fishery management. Find a Community Supported Fishery (CSF: like a CSA, but with seafood!) near you to support local fisheries committed to sustainability. Check out Local Catch for a handy map of local CSFs. Many farmers’ markets also have local seafood stalls. Consult guides like the FoodPrint Food Label Guide, Food & Water Watch’s Smart Seafood Guide (including their “Dirty Dozen“) and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (they even have an app) to help you make more informed choices.