By Kristi Willis for Edible Austin
Shopping for seafood can be a dizzying experience as sustainability ratings change based on the location or manner in which a fish is caught. Keeping it all straight is difficult at best, but the outcome is critical.
“The United Nations reports that fifty-three percent of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited,” explains Carrie Brownstein, seafood quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “An additional thirty-two percent are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion.”
While those numbers seem dire, thanks to retailers like Whole Foods Market and awareness programs like Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, fisheries are implementing new techniques to reduce the impact on the health of fishing populations and the oceanic ecosystem.
Gulf Wild, a program that tags targeted species so that buyers can trace when, where and how they were caught, requires their fishermen to agree to strict conservation covenants.
“We have to have a quality product, and that starts with a quality fisherman,” says T.J. Tate, executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, the founders of Gulf Wild.
Gulf Wild markets its catch through all of the Central Market locations, and 12 H-E-B locations. Participating stores display a Gulf Wild sign on the seafood case and shoppers can scan the bar codes to trace the origin of their fish. Gulf Wild is expanding their Texas program to restaurants later this year—training the servers and chefs on why serving Gulf Wild seafood makes a difference.
But despite the fact that these entities often work closely together and support one another, there can still be discrepancies between their grades. For example, Environmental Defense Fund lists red snapper as an Eco-Worst, but snapper caught under the Gulf Wild program is considered a good choice.
Several nonprofits certify or rate seafood based on its scarcity, the method by which it is caught and how harvesting it impacts ocean health. Consumers can do their part by choosing seafood that is certified, or highly ranked, by these groups.
If deciphering the various programs feels overwhelming, the experts recommend asking the fishmonger or server for help and voting for sustainable fish with your pocketbook.
You can learn more by reading the full version of this story here.