Five Of The Most Unsustainable Seafood Choices
It’s hard to overstate the overfishing problem — according to the World Wildlife Federation, unless the situation improves, stocks of all species currently fished for food are predicted to collapse by 2048. Overfishing occurs when the number of fish caught exceeds the rate at which a species can naturally replenish itself, and the scary statistics continue — 80 percent of all fish stocks are currently fully exploited or in decline, and 90 percent (yes, 90 percent) of all large predatory fish, including sharks, tuna and swordfish, have already disappeared completely. Consumers are the only ones who can help rectify this situation by limiting our own seafood intake — if there’s less demand, there’s less need for supply. If you’re unwilling to exclude marine species from your diet entirely, you can make sure to consume only those species that currently deemed [sustainable](http://www.seafoodwatch.org/). Here are five fish that should never, ever appear on your plate again.
Atlantic Salmon (Farmed)
Status: Stocks of wild Atlantic salmon have been damaged by human activity across the species’ range, largely as a result of overfishing and habitat destruction. To compensate for this, aquaculture facilities breed Atlantic salmon in open sea pens. Farmed fish now account for 99.5 percent of the Atlantic salmon available in world fish markets.
Atlantic Salmon, Cont.
Why It’s Unsustainable: If farmed salmon escape from the sea pens in which they are kept — which they inevitably do — they compete with dwindling wild stocks for food and spawning sites. Farmed fish often suffer from parasites and diseases, which may also be passed on to their wild counterparts. Worse, the chemicals and excrement pumped into the ocean by the farms is a significant source of marine pollution. On average, it takes 4.5 to 11 pounds (2 to 5 kilos) of wild fish (used as fish feed) to produce a little over 2 pounds (1 kilo) of farmed salmon, meaning that other species are being depleted to allow the salmon farms to turn a profit and consumers to continue eating salmon. -- Alternatives-- Chinook salmon, wild-caught in Alaskan waters, is currently accepted as a sustainable alternative to farmed Atlantic salmon.
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
Status: The Atlantic Bluefin tuna is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and is thought to have declined by 72 percent in the eastern Atlantic and by 82 percent in the western Atlantic over the last four decades due to overfishing.
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, Cont.
Why It’s Unsustainable: Bluefin tuna grow slowly and only reach sexual maturity late in life. They are often caught before they have had a chance to reproduce, and as such their stocks are unable to replenish themselves, which has brought the species to the brink of extinction. To make matters worse, Bluefin tuna are often caught using purse seine and long-lining methods, both of which result in significant by-catch. Because of this, certain Bluefin tuna fisheries have also decimated populations of other endangered marine species, including sharks, turtles and seabirds. Note that all bluefin tuna species (there are three) should be avoided. -- Alternatives-- [Albacore or skipjack tuna](http://www.seafoodwatch.org/seafood-recommendations/groups/tuna) caught using pole or trolling methods are a possible alternative to Bluefin tuna.
Status: The New Zealand orange roughy fishery accounts for the majority of the global catch for this species. All stocks in New Zealand waters are classified as overfished, meaning that the population has suffered a 70 percent decline. In 2010, three stocks had been fished to the point of complete collapse and, according to the WWF, some populations have been fished to commercial extinction in as little as four years.
Orange Roughy, Cont.
Why It’s Unsustainable: Orange roughy are thought to have lifespans of more than 100 years, and accordingly the species has a slow rate of growth and reproduction. They gather in large groups, making them an easy target for commercial fisheries. Because roughy dwell in up to 4,950 feet (1,500 m) of water, bottom trawlers are the preferred means for catching them. This highly destructive fishing method involves dragging heavy nets across the seafloor, and has the potential to destroy entire ecosystems, uprooting fragile deep-water corals and killing other benthic species caught by accident. --Alternatives-- Tilapia tank-farmed in Canada or the United States is generally considered an acceptable alternative to the orange roughy.
Sharks (All Species)
Status: With an estimated 100 million sharks killed every year, it comes as no surprise that 90 percent of the world’s shark species have disappeared from our oceans in the last century. Of the sharks that have been classified by the IUCN, nearly half are considered threatened or near threatened with extinction.
Why They’re Unsustainable: Most shark species grow slowly, and are late to sexually mature. Even then, they only produce a few offspring over the course of their lifetime, meaning that they are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. As the ocean’s key apex predators, sharks play a vital role in maintaining the fragile balance of the marine environment. If they disappear from our oceans, their loss will impact all other species, from the top of the food chain to the bottom. Shark finning is especially unsustainable, as 95 to 98 percent of the shark’s carcass is typically discarded. --Alternatives-- There is no sustainable alternative to shark. Swordfish steaks are sometimes used interchangeably with shark meat, but these predatory fish are also [at risk](http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/swordfish_billfish/) (and, like sharks, contain dangerous levels of mercury).
Atlantic Halibut (Wild-Caught)
Status: After decades of overfishing, the Atlantic halibut is now at risk of becoming extinct in the wild. It is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and is designated as a U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service Species of Concern.
Atlantic Halibut, Cont.
Why It’s Unsustainable: Like many other unsustainable fish species, the Atlantic halibut grows slowly and matures late, and so has been unable to recover in the wake of relentless overfishing. Wild Atlantic halibut are caught using long-lining or bottom-trawling methods. The first method often results in the accidental by-catch of other non-target species; the latter method causes considerable damage to the seafloor. --Alternatives-- Potential alternatives include Atlantic halibut farmed in closed tank systems in Canada; or, best of all, Pacific halibut caught in California using a hand-line.
The list of species considered sustainable changes frequently, and fish that are acceptable alternatives today may not be in the future. For a more comprehensive and up-to-date guide to sustainable and non-sustainable fish species, visit the official website of[ Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch](http://www.seafoodwatch.org/) program.