Seafood lovers will face slimmer pickings at some supermarkets this year. Whole Foods Market, the high-end grocery store chain specializing in natural and organic foods, has announced that starting this year’s Earth Day, April 22, it will no longer offer fish and other seafood items considered unsustainable because of overfishing or environmentally unsound harvesting practices.
Chilean seabass, Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, bluefin tuna, octopus and other wild-caught species deemed on the brink of extinction will disappear from the fish department. The company says its policies will follow a color code rating system established by the Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, both advocacy groups against overfishing and fishing methods harmful to other animals such as dolphins and sea turtles.
Overfishing Due to Worldwide Growing Demand
Pushes Many Fish Species to the Brink of Extinction
Whole Foods is not the only outlet responding to concerns about seafood sustainability. BJ’s Wholesale Club has announced its commitment to higher sustainability standards, and Supervalu, which operates Albertsons, Shop ‘n Save and other brands, has stopped selling several wild-caught varieties out of similar concerns.
According to Oceana, an international advocacy group for the protection of the world’s oceans, global fisheries are on the verge of collapse. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that more than three quarters of the world’s fish species are now “overexploited, fully exploited, significantly depleted or recovering from overexploitation.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch has issued a set of guidelines, called “National Sustainable Seafood Guide,” urging consumers to limit their choices to fish that is caught or farmed in environmentally responsible manners. It warns that both growing worldwide demand for seafood and destructive fishing and farming practices worsen the problem of sustainability.
Seafood Watch updates its recommendations annually, distinguishing three categories: “Best Choices,” which includes seafood that is abundantly available, well-managed and environment-friendly caught or farmed; “Good Alternatives,” which are acceptable options, but which are also caught or farmed in less than ideal ways; and “Avoid,” which lists species that are currently being overfished and/or harvested using methods that aren’t environmentally safe. Belonging to the latter category are caviar, sturgeon (wild, imported), Chilean seabass, Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, Atlantic sole, groupers, mahi mahi, blue and striped marlin, monkfish, swordfish and tuna (almost every kind fished in the wild).
Nutritionally speaking, this is all-around bad news. Seafood is a good source of lean protein and a healthy alternative to meat products. More importantly, it provides omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered essential fatty acids, meaning that we need them for our bodies to function properly. Essential fatty acids are not made in the body, so we must get them from our diet.
Omega-3 has a number of important health benefits, including reducing inflammation. It also can lower the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that eating fish two or three times a week can substantially reduce the risk of stroke. Some researchers have suggested that an adequate supply of omega-3 may even protect against age-related memory loss and dementia.
Unfortunately, there is also a downside to frequent fish consumption beyond the sustainability issue. Because of industrial pollution, many fish species carry high levels of mercury, PCB and other toxins. Especially large fish like swordfish, tuna, sturgeon and shark can be contaminated to the point where it is no longer safe to eat them in greater amounts. This goes especially for women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. Smaller fish like salmon, herring or trout are considered safer.
As an alternative to eating fish to cover your omega-3 needs, experts recommend taking fish oil supplements, however, you should first consult with your doctor before taking supplements of this kind.