Monday, April 13, 2009

I love fish. I like to look at them in aquariums; I like to swim with them, and I enjoy them on my plate. Poaching a sea bass with ginger and shiitake mushrooms is a sublime experience. Oh, yes, and I love sushi!

It probably has roots in my childhood when we would fish in the English Channel behind the chalet my parents rented for two weeks on the Isle of White. We always rented the chalet called Mine and ‘Ers right next to the one called ‘Ers and Mine. The highlight of each day – weather permitting – was to paddle in the shallow water with fishing nets and then examine our catch – small flat fish, crabs, strangers, seaweed and best of all shrimp. Not the steroid variety that I’ve become accustomed to here, but small brown ones packed with flavor. After jumping and shimmering in our nets, they were rewarded with the cooking pot. There was nothing like the satisfaction of feeding ourselves from the bountiful ocean.

Problem is the ocean isn’t so bountiful now. I recently experienced an environmental conference in Eleuthera at The Island School,, where marine scientists gathered to discuss the state of the oceans and climate change – it wasn’t pretty. Even the scientists were depressed.

Now I can’t look at or order fish without going through a litany of questions: Is it endangered? Is it farmed? If so, how? Are the farms damaging to the environment – other species? What are they fed – antibiotics? Dyes? If they’re wild caught – how? What damage to ocean biodiversity do the fishing methods cause? The shrimp I loved so much are now off limits to me. There simply isn’t a way – wild or farmed – that doesn’t drastically damage the environment. For example, here are two pictures showing what happens to healthy coral when the bottom-trawling boats have been through harvesting animals like shrimp. It could be the surface of the moon. It will take hundreds of years to return to the way it was.

Picture courtesy of

How much of an effect has over-fishing had? Consider this, the biomass in the North Atlantic fell by 90% during the 20th century. I don’t want to turn you into someone who waiters run away from when you open the menu, but if you want an easy way to know what your best choices for fish are then there’s a very handy guide put out by Seafood Watch published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (a fabulous place, by the way) It lists fish in three ways: Best Choices, Good Alternatives and Avoid.

Good luck. It isn’t easy being green!

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