It was not long ago that Americans rarely thought about where their food came from, let alone the impacts of their choices. These days it’s increasingly important to know not only what you’re eating and where it’s come from. From food co-ops, farmers markets, and community supported agriculture (CSA), to whole aisles (and grocery stores) devoted to natural, organic, local and sustainable produce—Americans and legal protections have quickly evolved to begin averting the worst problems of industrial agriculture. So though the journey to a healthy sustainable terrestrial food system is far from over, it is well underway.
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Seafood, however, is more slippery. “That’s because it’s the ‘Last of the Buffalo Hunters,” when it comes to seafood says Joe Lasprogata, Vice President of Samuels and Son Seafood Co. “The oceans are in some ways the last source of truly wild products, and we need to be careful with those.” Samuels and Son sponsors Sustained Seas, an organization dedicated to promoting sustainable fisheries via labeling and education. Part of the reason fisheries are in trouble is that consumers didn’t know the impacts of their choices.
Lasprogata says, “For way too long there’s been this surprising attitude: Fishermen believed that fisheries belonged to them, and that has led to collapse, over and over again. There was no care, no stewardship. But fisheries can absolutely be sustainable.” That confusion has continued to spill over into consumer behavior, since some people still make fish-buying decisions based on taste, price, and texture—rather than perceived sustainability, according to a recent study on British Columbian consumer habits.
But it’s extremely important to think about where the fish comes from, because those factors affect not only your health, but also the future of wild fish stocks, which we and countless other species depended on for our survival. “There are lots of ways to identify a so-called “Dirty Dozen” of fish, and it’s crucial to be aware of overfishing, pollution, and bycatch,” says Marianne Cufone.
Cufone is the Executive Director of Recirculating Farms Coalition, an organization dedicated to creating local land-based produce and fish systems using hydro- and aquaponics, small local systems that avoid the problems of open-water fish farms and industrial agriculture altogether, where the fish waste fertilizes fresh produce. The former Director of the Fish Program of Food and Water Watch, Cufone’s mission is redirecting consumers toward healthy, sustainable fish-eating. She laughs, saying, “I get a lot of texts from my friends asking me which fish are okay to eat.”
Cufone stresses that consumers can begin with a list of the 12 Worst Fish, or a “Fishy Dozen”—compiled with help from experts.
Here are the 12 fish you should never eat—and what to eat instead.
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