The New York Times the other day published two pieces, one in print and one online, about the practical and ethical questions facing seafood eaters in the present day and age (thanks, Alyssa!).
The first, by the great Mark Bittman, describes his changing relationship to fish over his three decades as a food writer. When he started writing, back in the 1970’s, it didn’t even occur to him—or anyone else, really—that wholesale collapses of fish stocks were possible. Since then, it has become painfully clear that those collapses can and do happen when we take more than the ocean can give. The food world’s relationship to fish has changed, too. Back then, fresh fish was still predominantly local, by necessity. In the years since, though, fish has globalized along with everything else. There have been worldwide fads (Chilean seabass, orange roughy, etc.) for fish that couldn’t support the sudden celebrity. Scarcity has led to some truly outrageous spectacles—like a single 282-lb bluefin tuna that sold for $104,700 in Tokyo at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Farmed salmon is available everywhere, and wild Alaskan salmon is sold fresh at a premium, not put in cans. Bittman describes adjusting to the new reality, and shares his personal rules of thumb for buying and eating fish today.
The second piece is a five-way blog post about the practical and ethical dilemmas facing the modern seafood eater. It includes views from Ray Hilborn, of my own alma-mater-to-be, the University of Washington, Carl Safina, whose book Song for the Blue Ocean had a significant role in convincing me to study the oceans, and Sheila Bowman, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Take-away points: educate yourself on which common food species are in trouble and which aren’t, be a picky consumer, eat low on the food chain, and be an active citizen.