Seafood guide combines human and ocean health

LOS ANGELES (Oct. 21, 2009)—A campaign to persuade consumers, chefs and food distributors to choose seafood that is healthy for people and beleagured ocean fish stocks was launched Tuesday by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The latest version of the aquarium's popular "Seafood Watch" recommendations on which fish and shellfish to eat and which to avoid were announced with some optimism by Executive Director Julie Packard.

"The state of our oceans and global seafood is in crisis but the tide is turning," Packard said in an interview at the California Science Center, where the aquarium will have a role in a future exhibit.

She said "the big picture is not getting any better," but cited "a growing scientific consensus that global fisheries can recover."

The guide seeks to combine the concepts of healthy eating—such as choosing a fish without bad contaminants but with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids—and a species' sustainability due to abundance, proper management and the way it is captured or farmed to avoid harming the environment.

The pocket-size guides urge consumers to ask where a fish is from and whether it was farmed or caught.

A "State of Seafood" report also released by the aquarium Tuesday asserts that this year, for the first time, people will eat more farmed fish than wild-caught fish.

"The global wild fish catch pretty much leveled out in the mid-'90s and yet our global demand for seafood continues to rise," Packard said.

The recommendations and the report drew criticism from the National Fisheries Institute, an industry trade association.

The group said in a statement that consumers should be skeptical and consult other sources on the health benefits of fish and sustainability.

"Americans are not eating enough fish to be healthy, never mind get sick or empty our oceans," the institute said, charging that the aquarium's recommendations will only discourage people from eating seafood.

The aquarium, meanwhile, touted a pledge by two dozen chefs and culinary figures across the U.S. to serve only sustainable seafood and encourage others in the industry to do so.

Packard also announced a commitment by a major regional fish distributor, Santa Monica Seafood, to encourage its customers to buy sustainable species.

David Litle, the company's director of sales and marketing, said the 70-year-old business serves 1,500 restaurants in Southern California, Las Vegas and Phoenix, distributing 16 million pounds of seafood a year.

Litle said the company doesn't plan to stop selling any types of fish but will use education, such as the monthly sessions it holds to introduce chefs to alternative types of fish.

"We can steer them toward sustainable seafood products," he said.


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