I recently listened to a TED talk by Chef Barton Seaver that addressed a message I think so many Americans need to hear. He discusses the modern seafood dilemma for humans today: that while seafood is one of our healthiest protein options, it is being consumed excessively and at an unsustainable rate. Watch the video here:
Seaver discusses how the media and mainstream nutritionists are recommending increased consumption of protein with a large focus on seafood. The problem here, however, is that society has started to view seafood as a commodity, and it is being consumed faster than ecosystems can replinish themselves. Seaver makes the great point that we are currently paying an unnecessarily high cost – to the environment – to source protein, yet we are hiding these negative ecological impacts behind profits and underneath the waves.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (a champion for ocean issues),
“Humans have been fishing the oceans for thousands of years. But over the past five decades technology has allowed us to fish farther, deeper and more efficiently than ever before. Scientists estimate 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 2003, the Pew Oceans Commission warned that the world’s oceans are in a state of “silent collapse,” threatening our food supply, marine economies, recreation and the natural legacy we leave our children.”
“Ocean fish are wildlife—the last such creatures that we hunt on a large scale. And while the sheer size of the oceans is awesome, there are many signs that we have found their limits. Despite our best efforts, the global catch of wild fish leveled off over 15 years ago and 85 percent of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline. Yet there are fisheries being run in a sustainable way. We now need to improve the practices of the remaining fisheries and solve the most pressing issues, including overfishing, illegal and unregulated fishing, habitat damage, bycatch (accidentally catching unwanted species) and poor management.”
Overfishing is an all-too-real example of tragedy of the commons, and it is an issue that needs to be examined on global, environmental and economic levels. Meanwhile, however, Seaver lays out some solutions for this growing problem that we can do as individuals:
1. Reduce your portions, especially proteins, and diversify your protein nutrients. (I take this as a suggestion to try other, more sustainable proteins. Try to incorporate more plant-based proteins such as beans, legumes, nuts, grains, etc.)
2. When you do consume seafood, diversify your species. Eat more resiliant, restorative options. Stay on the green list. (See the latest seafood guides here. Green species are the best choices to eat, yellow are good alternatives, and red species should be avoided as these items are overfished or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.)
According to this list, some seafoods I need to avoid in the southeast are U.S. Atlantic grouper, orange roughy, farmed salmon, and canned tuna. Some of my best seafood choices are Alaska wild salmon, farmed scallops, striped bass, and catfish.
3. When you do eat less sustainable species, celebrate it and don’t take it for granted. Keep portions small and be mindful of and thankful for what you are consuming. Savor your seafood.
4. Eat more vegetables. Seaver says green is the new blue, and our plates should always have more vegetables than seafood. (To me, this is encouragement to shop more sustainably for plant-based foods – farmer’s markets, seasonal produce, vegetarian restaurants, etc.)
5. Make recipes you can relate to with wholesome ingredients. See a list of sustainable seafood recipes here.
Seaver ends his talk with the message that, as individuals in a much larger society and world, it is important to take only what we need and share the rest. In many aspects of life, this is a great motto to have.