Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide: Tainted by politics?
Spent the weekend at Monterey Bay Aquarium this weekend and while eating my clam chowder, I flipped through the pocket seafood watch guide. I noticed a very curious pattern in the Good Alternatives column vs the Avoid column. Basically imported king crab, spiny lobster, mahi mahi, shrimp and swordfish "BAD". US king crab, lobster, mahi mahi, shrimp, and swordfish "GOOD".
I can see how some of this may be valid. For example farmed shrimp or tilapia from certain countries may not be sustainable based on what they're using as feed, etc.
But how is this valid for king crab, mahi mahi, and swordfish? ALL imported king crab, mahi mahi, and swordfish is bad regardless of where they come from and only the US ones are sustainable? Am I to believe that all fishing practices in the world are unstainable or that all of these populations of these types of fish are depleted across the planet except for the stuff that comes from American waters? Sounds a bit "buy american" only to me...which I'm fine with, but don't market it under the guise of sustainable or not.
Anyone able to shed some light on this?
The main problem with the pocket guide is the very limited amount of space available; they can't provide much detail about why a particular fish from a particular region is classified the way it is. However if you go to their website or use the iPhone/iPad app you are provided with much more detailed information which explains how they came to classify that particular product. For example here is what the website has to say about imported king crab:
U.S. king crab is currently well-managed; however some populations are recovering from previous overfishing making this a "Good Alternative." King crab imported from Russia is ranked as "Avoid."
Buyer beware! Russian king crab is sometimes sold in the U.S. market as "Alaska king crab." Crab is sold as kani when prepared as sushi.
King crab is found in cold oceans worldwide. Crab populations can vary widely from year to year, depending on ocean and weather conditions.
All three species of king crab are fished in the U.S.; the two primary king crab populations in Alaska are healthy and abundant due to responsible fisheries management. However, several others fisheries are closed; this will allow the crab populations time to recover from previous overfishing.
Approximately half of all king crab sold in the U.S. market is imported from Russia, where it is fished in the Russian Far East and the Barents Sea. Far East king crab populations are at critically low abundance, a situation made worse by regular overfishing and illegal fishing. In the Barents Sea, king crab was introduced in the 1960s. The crab has spread quickly and has become an invasive species that is seriously impacting the ecosystem. We recommend consumers "Avoid" imported king crab and choose king crab from the U.S.
You can even download a dense, 56 page report on the status of the worldwide king crab fishery. They have at their disposal extensive research on which to base their recommendations. I wouldn't swear on my grandmother's grave that no nationalism creeps into their assessments, but I don't think it is significant.
That's a tricky one. The obvious answer is Yes, since they're growing an excess of it, but if we provide them with a willing market they'll grow MORE, which we don't want to encourage, since (as noted) it's basically a pest there. On the other hand, fish that are self-promoting pests, such as lampreys, should probably be eaten as extravagantly as we can manage. Economics is harder than a lot of people suspect …
In US waters, there are a boatload of fisheries rules and restrictions for pretty much any species that's fished for commercially. And much grumbling that the feds/state fish & wildlife is actually being overly conservative when it comes to strictly limiting fish sizes and seasons. (You should hear the whining every year down here about grouper and red snapper season restrictions- fishermen claim that the feds keep reducing season lengths even when the fishery is healthier than it has been in the past 10-20 years)
I suppose Monterey figures it's just easier and more concise to say to avoid all foreign fish because if you start to get into yeas and nays for individual species in 20 different countries with large commercial fishing fleets, they no longer have a nice pamphlet of reasonable size that someone can take to a restaurant- they have an entire phone book.