The science of sustainable seafood, explained

Paul Greenberg’s Frontline Special Raises Awareness for Seafood Sustainability

Best-selling author and lifelong fisherman Paul Greenberg spent a year eating only fish – no terrestrial animal protein – for every meal to help consider the question: “What fish should I eat that’s good for me and good for the planet?”

PBS captured his pursuit on Frontline last month in a special film titled “The Fish on My Plate.”

The story began in Peru with the anchoveta fishery, then transitioned to a conversation on fish meal and the Atlantic farmed salmon industry that it supplies. Norwegian salmon farms were featured, both those under environmental scrutiny and the innovative and sustainably-focused Kvaroy fish farm. Kvaroy uses off-cuts from other commercial fisheries for their salmon feed instead of fishmeal from a reduction fishery and deploy lumpsuckers – a small fish that eats sea lice off the farmed salmon.

Next, shellfish and kelp farms were briefly showcased as sustainable alternatives to finfish aquaculture. Greenberg ended his tour in Alaska and celebrated the protective culture and policies for wild salmon in that state.

Regarding forage fish, Greenberg compared recently low abundance in the Peruvian anchoveta fishery with the circumstances that preceded the collapse of the California sardine fishery in the 1950’s:

“The past tells me that once upon a time the same kind of fishery once existed off California – cannery row in Monterrey. It got hit by an El Nino-like event, the people kept fishing, and that fishery crashed in the 1950’s and its never really come back. All the boats, all the factories disappeared, and a lot of them were bought and shipped here to Peru.”

CFoodUW reported on the status of Pacific Sardines last year. Forage fish populations have been shown to collapse regardless of fishing effort, as demonstrated by McClatchie et al. earlier this year (reported here on CFoodUW).

The only other wild fishery touched on in the film is Alaskan salmon, which was applauded and celebrated as an example of what a well-managed fishery can produce and represent. Alaska is the, “one splendid shining example where salmon are still in their original abundance, thronging in ever year,” explained author and radio host Richard Nelson.

The bulk of the film examined aquaculture, particularly Atlantic salmon, and debated the environmental and ethical factors around farming the oceans. Greenberg hosted a dinner with environmentalists, fisheries scientists, and aquaculture industry representatives to discuss these issues while sampling both wild and farmed seafood.

At the film’s conclusion, Greenberg attained much higher Omega 3 levels, as he had hoped, but was surprised to find that he also had increased mercury in his blood. This was an appropriate analogy for the difficult sustainability questions debated throughout the film, but never fully answered.

Go here to watch Greenberg’s The Fish on my Plate.
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