Monterey Bay Aquarium: Turning the Tide on Seafood

Seafood can seem a conundrum. In one ear we hear “eat more fish” for the benefit they bring our bodies, in the other we hear “the oceans are being overfished.” So what’s the answer . . . how are we supposed to feed a growing global appetite for seafood when supplies in the world’s oceans are dwindling? That’s the question Monterey Bay Aquarium has been asking for years alongside other groups like the Blue Ocean Institute and the Ocean Conservancy.


And according to a ground-breaking report released by the Monterey Bay Aquarium entitled Turning the Tide: The State of Seafood, they’re closer than ever to knowing the answer. “Ocean life is still in decline and we clearly need to take urgent action to turn things around,” says aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard in the report. “The good news is that we know what it will take, and that key players are working more closely than ever to solve the problems. I’m confident that we can and will create a future with healthy oceans.”

So, just what will it take?

There are many factors that play into the health of the oceans that can be roughly boiled down to two golden rules: that fish species aren’t captured faster than they can reproduce, and that the environment remains healthy so that those fish—and the entire ecosystem–can thrive. Here is a snapshot of what Turning the Tide has to say about the state of seafood:

In the Wild

The major stakeholders in ocean affairs–environmental scientists and those who manage the fishing operations (which are called fisheries)–have in the past butted heads on which course of action to take to restore fish populations. But now there is considerable consensus on what can be done to change course. “Fishing communities and conservationists are crafting innovative solutions to ensure that there will be fish to catch—and people to catch them—for generations to come.” Solutions like regulating the type of fishing gear used and the amount caught, and a system called “catch shares” in which fishermen, cooperatives and communities are allowed a specified share of the annual catch. The result of these initiatives is an eco-friendly balance that enables fish, fishermen and fishing communities to thrive long-term.

On the Farms

The report also announced that, for the first time ever in 2009, we as a global community will consume more farmed fish than wild. Aquaculture is indeed one of the solutions for feeding global demand for seafood, but it must be regulated on an international level in order to protect both the health of marine ecosystems and the health of the consumers who eat it. Groups like the Pew Charitable Trust and the World Wildlife Fund are working to set healthy, sustainable aquaculture standards on both a national and international scale.

At the Market

There is no question that consumers’ desire to make sustainable choices is at an all-time high, due in large part to programs (like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch) empowering them to do so. The report spotlights several positive initiatives that this interest has spurred. For instance, several leading chefs upped the ante to “Save Our Seafood” by pledging not to serve any fish on the Seafood Watch red “avoid” list (think the Give Swordfish a Break campaign rolled out across much of a menu’s best-sellers). It’s a bold move, and one that will inevitably broaden our seafood palate as a nation. So expect to see more fish like sardines and Acrtic char on menus in the very near future.

Other highlights from Turning the Tide are the huge strides made in making sustainable seafood more accessible in mass market channels, from WalMart to major food service companies. It’s getting easier to identify sustainable seafood at the counter too. The Marine Stewardship Council’s blue “MSC Certified” label backs up a robust program of sustainable standards, traceability and accountability for wild-caught fish throughout the supply chain, from producer to plate. Its sister program, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, is in development and will offer a similar certification and labeling program for sustainably farmed seafood.

What You Can Do

All this talk of sustainability and reports can sound daunting, but all in all the message of the State of Seafood was a positive one. There is a lot that can be done to restore our oceans and fish populations to health while providing the world’s human population with delicious seafood.

How’s this for empowering: every time you make a seafood purchase you’re contributing either to the decline or rejuvenation our seas. Here are three things you can do to help turn the tide in the right direction:

1)      Memorize a short list – Seafood Watch released their Super Green List. We at published our Super Seven. Both of these lists are great to have down pat for when you’re at the fish counter.

2)      Be aware and adventurous – There is a plethora of resources out there, including , to help you choose wisely, and  sometimes those choices may take you out of your comfort zone. Delve in with an open mind and give new species a try.

3)      Talk back – Let people know that you’re concerned about our oceans, whether it’s your policymakers or the guy behind the fish counter. Our combined voice equals market demand which goes a long way towards driving change.


ECO LOGICAL, by Joanna Yarrow (Duncan Baird Publishers, 2009)

As a writer, quite a few books and gadgets show up on my doorstep hoping for some sort of review. Some get one. Most don’t. But something recently came in that I thought would be perfect for the first review here on NOURISH Evolution.

Joanna Yarrow’s ECO LOGICAL is like a groovy guidebook for navigating eco topics. Where a DK book on Paris might give you a room by room breakdown of the Louvre, arming you with just enough information in an at-a-glance format for you to gain a working knowledge of the art within its walls, Yarrow takes us through various realms of green living. She uses similar boiled-down-to-the-essence graphics and info-bites to tease out the main arguments of a topic and help us understand what’s at stake on both sides, and then leaves us to choose how to incorporate the information into our daily practices; much as we strive to do here at NOURISH Evolution.

In the section on food (one of five other sections), Yarrow tackles the dueling views that “the planet needs to go organic” and “only conventional farming can feed the world” with simple, nifty graphics and summaries that speak volumes. She also looks at fair trade; the wide-ranging impacts of an omnivorous diet versus a vegetarian; sustainable seafood; and buying locally and seasonally.

This book is not an end-all-be-all treatise on how to save the earth, but what I love about it is that it doesn’t purport to be. Rather than trying to answer all the questions, Yarrow instead stirs the pot with ECO LOGICAL and asks us to think for ourselves. The book’s tagline says, “Join the debate—all the facts and figures, pros and cons you need to make up your mind.” While ECO LOGICAL may not offer conclusions, it does spark the questions that do eventually lead to choices that are right for each of us.

Note: My philosophy with books or any other product that shows up on my doorstep is this: if it ends up being heavily used on my own shelves and I enjoy it so much I get excited about telling people, I’ll most likely write about it at some point. If it’s something that I have no use for, I won’t put words to it.

Three Tips for Greener Summer Entertaining

Now that we’re in the dog days of summer, I thought it a good time for a post on how to make your summer get-togethers a touch more green. For help, I turned to our new Green Entertaining Expert, Nicole Aloni, author of the website and upcoming book A Conscious Feast and passionate advocate of environmentally-wise entertaining.


Greener Grilling

“Natural gas or propane is the most environmentally-friendly choice,” says Nicole. Yet she acknowledges the smoky appeal of charcoal. If you must go gasless, a good solution is to use lump charcoal, which is made from hardwood (you can find bags in most hardware and grilling stores nowadays). “Regular briquettes use fillers that let off toxic fumes into the environment . . . and your food.” Skip the lighter fluid, which Nicole says is also “a big no-no” for the same reasons as briquettes, and use a chimney starter instead; you’ll be surprised how effective it is despite its simplistic design.

Greener Picnicking

While disposable paper plates are the embodiment of ease, they’re not the most friendly on the environment. But don’t feel like you need to spring for a set of eco-groovy bamboo or palm leaf dishes (although boy they are nice) every time you picnic, instead just tote along the dishes you normally use. We stack cloth napkins in between our plates to keep them from knocking together and wrap them (after scraping off the food) in the tablecloth when we’re done. If your dishes are especially messy (or your tablecloth especially nice), Nicole suggests wrapping them tight with plastic wrap and tying them up in a garbage bag. “That way they don’t rattle around and slosh goo all over the car.” Either way, just unwrap and run through the dishwasher when you get home.

Greener Bug Control

We’ve all had cookouts tainted by the scent of bug spray. Instead, swap the can for a spade and plant a hedge of alliums coffee-burningor marigolds, suggests Nicole. They’re beautiful for guests to behold but unappealing to many pests. If it’s yellowjackets you’re plagued by, fill small bowls with dry ground coffee and light them on fire so they smolder, then set them around the yard. I picked up this gem of a tip while at Rancho La Puerta and was astounded by how well it worked.

So light up your gas grill (or fire up your chimney starter), pack up your porcelain plates and light some coffee . . . then cook up these savory chicken legs for a green summery feast.