Protecting the sustainability of life on Earth is at the forefront of the Academy’s mission, but there is often a stated conflict between commercial interests and conservation groups. The plight of the bluefin tuna is a prime example.
As recently reported in an article in The Economist, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas set the total allowable catch of bluefin by European Nations to an amount that scientist advisors claim is certainly likely to send the population crashing.
Not good news for lovers of the ocean, or of seafood products. If you enjoy fish as much as me, you might consider using your purchasing power to eat seafood whose stock is still plentiful out there in the sea. There are a myriad factors that help determine whether a species is a sustainable choice. But I like to break it down with three simple questions:
What was caught?
Fish with long life spans — such as most sharks, our native rockfish, and orange roughy — are hit hard by annual fishing because their reproductive cycles need years to complete. Likewise, continually catching older, larger, healthier fish to satisfy a consumer palate will surely leave slim pickings to repopulate the school.
How was it caught?
Was a huge net employed, capturing thousands of untargeted animals? Was a trawl net dragged across the ocean floor, leaving damaged habitat in its wake? Or did a traditional hook-and-line do the trick?
Where was it caught?
Is commercial fishing even regulated in the region? Can regulations be enforced (a tough one in international waters!)? For farmed varieties, does the system pollute local waterways with the residual waste and antibiotics of penned schools; or, on the bright side, provide incentive for local communities to keep their shores clean for the sake of a tasty harvest?
Whoa! That’s a lot to track. Good thing the experts have done the work for us.
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood WATCH program and the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector offer amazing resources for consumers willing to choose a sustainable substitution for their favorite fish. Check it out!
To teach your students firsthand how irresponsible fishing can deplete populations, consider our Sustainable Fishing in the Phillipines activity, which features a competitive game that will surely send a message! The lesson plan also includes some helpful background for the teacher, so get reading!