Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Great Shopping Tool: Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch

Knowing which fish to buy can be very confusing. Wild fish is usually the better option (instead of farmed), but issues of overfishing, cost (have you seen the price of halibut recently?) and contaminants (i.e. mercury, PCBs) necessitate advance degrees in ichthyology, marine biology and economics just to navigate the seafood counter.

Luckily, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program has online, mobile and region-based printed tools to help consumers make more educated when buying fish and shellfish.

For example, my local Whole Foods had rockfish on sale last week. I had never heard of rockfish, so when I got home, I went to the site and entered rockfish into the search box. I am now an amateur expert:

In recent years, reduced fishing has allowed many rockfish populations to recover from low levels. Gear concerns remain, however - trawl-caught rockfish should still be avoided. Most rockfish caught by hook-and-line are generally a 'Good Alternative' and hook-and-line caught black rockfish from the U.S. is a 'Best Choice.'

Buyer beware: rockfish is often mislabeled as red snapper or Pacific snapper. There are no true snappers on the U.S. West Coast. Rockfish is also a market name for striped bass.


More than 70 species of rockfish live off the U.S. West Coast. Most rockfish are extremely long-lived, deep-water fish. Scientists estimate a lifespan of 100-200 years for some species. They are slow-growing and mature late in life and many are caught before they have had a chance to reproduce. These traits make them very vulnerable to overfishing.

"Not surprisingly, decades of heavy fishing sent rockfish populations plummeting. In addition, bottom trawling, the most widely used method for catching rockfish, damaged seafloor habitats and caught large quantities of bycatch. In recent years, fishing pressure has been reduced and many rockfish populations are now recovering."

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