It’s Seafood – But There’s No ‘Sea’ Required

Screengrab via BBC


A more sustainable solution to a billion dollar industry…

Seafood has become the United States’ second-largest trade deficit.

But researchers in West Virginia believe Americans can end their country’s dependence on foreign fish – and cut down the carbon footprint of eating seafood – with “recirculating aquaculture systems”.

Watch video at BBC.

The Deliciously Fishy Case of the “Codfather”

Via Tristan Spinski
Via Tristan Spinski


The story of Carlos Rafael…

The fake Russians met the Codfather on June 3, 2015, at an inconspicuous warehouse on South Front Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The Codfather’s lair is a green and white building with a peaked roof, fishing gear strewn across a fenced-in backyard, and the words “Carlos Seafood” stamped above the door. The distant gray line of the Atlantic Ocean is visible behind a towering garbage heap. In the 19th century, New Bedford’s sons voyaged aboard triple-masted ships in pursuit of sperm whales; now they chase cod, haddock, and scallops. Every year, more than $350 million worth of seafood passes through this waterfront, a significant slice of which is controlled by the Codfather, the most powerful fisherman in America’s most valuable seafood port.

“The Codfather” is the local media’s nickname for Carlos Rafael, a stocky mogul with drooping jowls, a smooth pate, and a backstory co-scripted by Horatio Alger and Machiavelli.

Read on at Mother Jones.

Warmer Oceans Could Boost The Toxins In Your Shellfish Dinner

Via Eric Risberg/AP
Via Eric Risberg/AP

Domoic acid is a toxin produced by Pseudo-nitzschia, a micro algae which can accumulate in species like Dungeness crab, clams, mussels and anchovy. It can be harmful to both humans and wildlife, including sea lions and birds. Remember the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds? It was inspired by a real-life incident of California seabirds driven into a frenzy by the neurotoxin.

Read on at The Salt.

Can we have our sustainable seafood and eat it too?

You know the feeling: You’re standing in front of the seafood counter, running down the list of evils you might be supporting when you buy one of those gleaming filets. There’s overfishing, but also pollution from fish farming, not to mention bycatch, marine habitat destruction, illegal fishing … and that’s before getting to the problem of seafood fraud, and the fact that 1 in 3 seafood samples in a massive study by Oceana was served under pseudonym.


To read the full article please visit Grist.

Fish For Thought: Eat a Wild Fish, Save a Fisherman

Last month, to little fanfare, a thinktank called the Earth Policy Institute announced that humankind is on the verge of crossing a remarkable threshold: For the first time in history, we’ll soon be eating more farmed fish than wild-caught seafood.

American eaters are notoriously disconnected from our seafood’s origins, which is why McDonald’s can get away with offering a sandwich as nondescript as Filet-O-Fish (it’s Alaskan pollock, in case you were wondering) and seafood restaurants can cavalierly swap tilefish for red snapper. Still, even accounting for the fact that most farmed fish are grown in the black box that is China, I’m astounded by how quietly our diets have shifted, and by how anonymous most farmed seafood species remain.

We all know what cows and chickens look like, but can anyone reading this pick out a tilapia from a lineup? How many people have ever seen a salmon or shrimp farm? What the heck is barramundi? Branzino? Pangasius?

Though our eating habits are evolving rapidly, most consumers are flying blind. For every sophisticated pescatarian with a color-coded seafood card and a hankering for line-caught Pacific cod, there are a dozen other fish-eaters who buy what’s cheap and convenient — which is completely understandable when time is short and the kids are hungry. ­­ But this also means we’ve paid little attention to the ascent of aquaculture, even as it has overtaken our markets and groceries.

Of course, aquaculture’s rise is only half the story. The other half is that wild fisheries catches have been stagnant at about 90 million tons per year for the last three decades, even as worldwide fishing effort has increased. As the Earth Policy Institute report puts it, “The bottom line is that getting much more food from natural systems may not be possible.” Treating the ocean like a dumping ground for oil, plastic, and sewage probably hasn’t helped, either — just a hunch..

With the high seas unable to keep pace with escalating seafood demand, it’s no wonder that farmed fish has stepped into the breach.

But aquaculture’s takeover is problematic on many levels. Many fish farming operations are certifiable environmental disasters, none worse than salmon farms: all those crammed-in fish spread disease, produce waste like nobody’s business, and escape from their pens to compete and breed with wild fish, weakening their gene pool. And in what crazy world does it make sense to use five pounds of delicious, Omega-3-rich sardines to grow a single pound of pallid salmon meat?

Wild fish are a lot tastier and more diverse, too — if you live in the northeast, would you rather feast on a smorgasbord of swordfish, flounder, cod, croaker, tuna, porgy, mackerel and striper, or force down a hunk of tilapia every day for the rest of your life?

But farmed fish isn’t going anywhere, and it would be shortsighted to discount any potential source of protein on a planet that will soon be inhabited by 9 billion very hungry humans. What’s more, as aquaculture has matured, it’s also gotten cleaner. Raising fish in land-based tanks instead of ocean pens, feeding them vegetable matter instead of wild forage fish, and growing several species together in polycultures are just a few of the techniques through which aquaculture is expediting its own rise.

Still, in Alaska, where I’m living for the summer, singing the praises of farmed fish will get you shoved off the dock. I’ve seen the bumper sticker “Friends don’t let friends eat farmed salmon” more than once. Alaskans don’t hate farmed fish because of what aquaculture does to the environment — they hate farmed fish because of what aquaculture has done to fishermen.

In Bristol Bay, the distant corner of western Alaska that’s host to the world’s greatest sockeye salmon runs, fishermen told me repeatedly that the explosion of farmed salmon had proved disastrous for their business. There was a time, said Tom, a thirty-year industry veteran, that Bristol Bay’s fishermen got almost two dollars a pound for their catch — until cheap, low-quality farmed salmon hit the market and undercut their wares.

“2003 was the year it really hit rock bottom,” Tom told me, flipping through a well-worn journal in which he’d tabulated three decades of prices and catches. “We were probably getting forty cents a pound. Just about everybody in Bristol Bay was losing money.”

Fishermen aren’t the only ones to suffer when markets crash. Every fisherman is a small business: he (or she) employs two or three crewmen, and his boat helps prop up a vast, interconnected marine economy. The marine supply storeowner, the ice vendor, the fuel vendor, and dozens of other local entrepreneurs depend on the business of fishermen; without them, vibrant waterfronts degrade into ghostly, rotting pilings.

When the Canadian government shut down collapsed cod fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1992, for example, 10% of the population fled inland. The fish haven’t come back, and neither have the communities. And while fishermen often get blamed for facilitating their own demise through overfishing, they’re just responding to perverse government regulations and subsidies and the demands of global markets. Hate the game, not the player.

Fortunately, consumers are gradually learning to distinguish between the facsimile that is farmed salmon and the delicious, wild-caught, genuine article. Prices have rebounded: most of the fishermen I spoke with in Bristol Bay were getting somewhere between $1.30 and $1.50 per pound. That’s enough to keep salmon fishermen well in the black — although it makes you wonder exactly whom you’re enriching when you pay $19.99 per pound at a seafood counter.


These wild Alaskan sockeye salmon didn’t make it back to their home rivers to spawn, but never fear: Bristol Bay’s fisheries are some of the world’s most sustainable.  


A Bristol Bay fisherman prepares to cut fillets from the first sockeye salmon of his season.


Not every sockeye salmon caught in Bristol Bay makes its way to market — after all, fishermen have to eat, too.


Ben Goldfarb is a freelance writer and the former editor of Sage Magazine. This is the first installment of Fish for Thought, a monthly column about the seafood we eat and the men and women who catch, grow, and harvest it for us. 

Some question whether sustainable seafood delivers on its promise

The Washington Post reports on seafood’s true environmental effects.  Fish now carry dozens of labels indicating where it was raised, how it was raised.  But the question is, does all that really matter?

Many retailers tout the environmental credentials of their seafood, but a growing number of scientists have begun to question whether these certification systems deliver on their promises. The labels give customers a false impression that purchasing certain products helps the ocean more than it really does, some researchers say.

Read the full article here.