Friday, August 23, 2013

Sustainable Fishing

Truck parked near the docks in Petersburg, Alaska
Alaska salmon is all wild, never farmed. The Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch both rate it "green" -- that is, one of the most sustainable fish. "Abundance of salmon, particularly Pink and Sockeye, is high in Alaska due to good management and healthy habitat," writes Blue Ocean. "The majority of salmon is caught with purse seines, followed by gillnets and troll gear. These fishing methods cause little habitat damage and result in moderate levels of bycatch, typically other fish."
Tlingit food, display in Sitka National Historical Park
The Tlingit tribes that have lived in southeast Alaska for centuries depended on salmon, which they preserved by smoking or drying to make a variety of long-lasting foods. Traditionally, they also ate other seafoods, including seal meat, and used seal fat to preserve berries. Their fishing and hunting practices were very sustainable and efficient, but of course the population was small and there were no exports.

Boats in Petersburg (Len's photo)
Now the Alaska fisheries are among the most productive anywhere, and their products both fresh and preserved, go all over the world. In view of the utter depletion of other fishing grounds, such as Atlantic cod, it's encouraging that Alaska fisheries still seem sustainable.

Petersburg, which we visited, has only a few thousand people, but ranks sixteenth among US fishing ports, with a total of 101 million pounds of seafood, worth $65 million, caught in 2011 (source). When we visited, most of the salmon boats were out at sea where the salmon were running.

Petersburg Alaska (Len's photo)
 Petersburg fishermen also catch other Alaska seafoods rated environmentally responsible: Dungeness crab; red, blue, and golden king crab; pink shrimp, Dover and rock sole, and sablefish. Halibut, another valued fish, is abundant in Alaska. Monterey rates it green, but Blue Ocean classifies it as yellow (not as desirable) because of the danger of mercury.

As I wrote yesterday, we tasted several of these, as well as some type of rockfish (which I suspect is only available locally so the Alaska version doesn't appear in the ratings).

Cannery on the wharf in Petersburg
Now that I'm home, I am definitely missing the wonderful flavors of many types of fresh fish. However, I do try to comply with the suggestions of the two rating agencies that suggest responsible ways to eat seafood; as it happens, I shop for fish at Whole Foods which has partnered with both of them and committed to sell only recommended fish.

Both the Blue Ocean and Monterey ratings agree with the fisherman in Petersburg in condemning farmed salmon for its dangers to the environment. In contrast, by inspecting a variety of farms, Whole Foods claims to have identified responsibly and safely designed salmon farms that satisfy higher standards. These farms use "carefully monitored, low-density pens and tanks without antibiotics, pesticides or added growth hormones." They also are believed to prevent the escape of fish or their toxins and diseases into the wild.

1 comment:

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Mae!

Great post! I get so frustrated when it comes time to buying fish. Thank goodness there are resources online to help through the maze of confusion.

Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge. We don't have a Whole Foods by us but I have made friends with the "fish lady" at the local Weiss store.

Thanks for sharing...