In a landmark move, Whole Foods has just announced that starting on April 22 — Earth Day — it will no longer sell seafood from depleted or otherwise unsustainable fisheries, or species harvested with ecologically damaging methods such as trawling. The industry ratings for these species are determined by the Blue Ocean Institute and California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, which produces a popular “Seafood Watch Recommendations” pocket guide and phone app for shoppers. Say bye-bye to Atlantic halibut, skate, octopus and sole.
It’s a bold move for the world’s largest, most powerful green grocery chain to defer customer demand for better buying practices, but according to Whole Foods’ seafood quality standards coordinator Carrie Brownstein via an AP article, “In the long term, what we’re really looking to do is help reverse trends of overfishing and by-catch, so that really we can move the industry as a whole toward greater sustainability.”
So how does what you eat here at home have a global impact? Depletion of any fishery always has a negative effect on the food chain because of a ripple effect. Foreign fisheries may also employ unsound fishing methods that increase by-catch (think dolphins and other aquatic species, albatross, etc.). You may love Chilean sea bass (it’s actually Patagonian toothfish) but it has long been a fishery on the verge of collapse and by purchasing it at the store or ordering it at a restaurant, you create demand for that product. Once a species is extinct, it can seriously throw a marine ecosystem out of whack. Plus, you know, extinction kind of sucks.
It’s harder for world travelers to be on top of what’s sustainable and what’s not, especially if, like me, you love street food. In developing nations, especially countries with a coastline, fishing is usually a key part of the local economy. But saving our rapidly depleting oceans trumps putting a few pennies in local pockets: they’re not looking at the big picture, which is the more seafood we consume, the less there is to sell.
Order something besides seafood unless you’re positive it’s caught in a non-environmentally degrading way, from a healthy fishery. Go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Recommendations site for a global guide to what’s sustainable and what’s not. It offers alternatives, so odds are, you can travel and have your lobster dinner, too.
[Photo credit: Flickr user Eneas]