Abundant, Underutilized and (Often) Data-deficient – A Problematic Trend in Popular Seafood Advice (excerpt)

The following excerpt is from a piece I published today at The Fish Site.

One-third of the 12 species featured in the Cooking Light special report “12 Fish You Should Eat Now” exceed the EPA threshold for mercury in seafood. Mean mercury levels are based on FDA, EPA and Karimi et al (2012) data. “F”= farmed, although data is based on wild stock and may be higher than aquacultured fishes.

While fairly good, data-based advice does exist for the most popular seafood choices, the same often cannot be said about less familiar species increasingly promoted as “abundant and underutilized.”

Americans should eat more fish for both their own health and the health of the environment, but ardently building demand for some lesser-known species can have the opposite effect when data are lacking or ignored.

The focus on so-called “trash fish,” bycatch and species that do not earn enough at the dock to warrant harvest, is often promoted as the intersection of the three pillars of sustainability—people, planet and profit. When plentiful fishes seldom harvested come into vogue, some argue pressure can be alleviated on overfished stocks, while embattled commercial fishers can land what the ocean is providing rather than what consumers are demanding.

To many sustainably-minded seafood consumers it’s a no brainer that dovetails with the popular local food movement. Eating less familiar species that are seasonally abundant in local waters is akin to eating what nearby farmers produce and sell at the local farmer’s market. Many assume that along with environmental and economic advantages that may come with consuming what is locally abundant, there are also health benefits. While this may sometimes be true, it is not always the case.

Eating more seafood is good for one’s health, and having locally abundant options can make consumers feel better about eating more seafood. It’s critical, however, to also acknowledge the complexity of offering consumption advice.

Creating demand and building markets for “trash fish” is an uphill battle, but it’s one in which many national media outlets, NGOs, advocacy groups, politicians, and fishing industry advocates have engaged. Unfortunately, they have not always… [Read More]

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About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
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