How to Make Sustainable Seafood Choices at the Fish Market

By Carl Safina, "Sea Change," March/April 2010

The seafood we eat has an enormous impact on our health today and the health of our oceans tomorrow.

"Thanks for a great article. Sure hope lots and lots of people read it. I've been eating sardines all my life (am now 74) and doctors are always amazed at how good my good cholesterol is. I tell them it's all the sardines I've eaten -...

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I steer my boat, First Light, out of the harbor knowing this will be my last fishing trip of the year. It’s become a tradition. What my partner, Patricia, and I seek will provide reason enough to give abundant thanks.

Off the very tip of Long Island, migrating ducks and loons enliven the sea’s wintery surface. Already a few seals from the north are appearing. Gannets on long wings have come from coastal Canada following the same prey that we are after today, and we watch the birds carefully. When I see them raining into the sea like white missiles, I turn the wheel toward them.

They’re all here for the same reason I am: the strong currents keep this place awash in plankton, enriching the whole food chain, concentrating wildlife of all kinds.

As soon as I drop a line, I will become part of this complex web of interdependence—that’s what I most love about being here.

Today, though, the fish we pursue are different from what you might expect or what I would have sought several years ago. (Click here to find 6 super green fish to serve.) I’ve fished these waters since I was a teenager in the 1970s, and I’ve seen the ocean change. The big offshore fish—the swordfish and sharks I once thrilled to see, catch and eat—are now so scarce I just don’t feel good about hooking them anymore. (Click here to find 6 fish to avoid.) U.S. fishermen now often catch less than 20 percent of the bluefin tuna they’re allowed because they can’t find enough to fill their quotas. Hammerhead sharks—common when I started fishing offshore in the 1980s—are down about 90 percent and other shark populations are severely depleted too.

Next: The Decline of Fish Populations »

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