Are sustainable fish really sustainable?

At Whole Foods, you’ll see fish coded by color: green for “sustainable,” yellow for “not-so-sustainable,” and red for “you really shouldn’t be buying this, but we’ll sell it to you anyway.” While sockeye salmon might make you feel virtuous, knowing you’ve chosen responsibly using the color codes, there are some factors that aren’t on the codes.

The International Program on the State of the Ocean released a report that over-fishing and pollution from aquaculture have triggered a “phase of extinction unprecedented in human history.” The solution goes beyond consulting your Seafood Watch card. since these cards and color-coded systems don’t take into consideration the carbon impacts fisheries create while their fleets are chasing down fish species the whole Earth over. For instance, Seafood Watch classifies salmon caught in Alaska, which is over 2,200 miles away from the Bay Area, as the best choice you could make on your next grocery run. Tilapia caught somewhere in South America, which could mean anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 miles of one-way travel, is listed as “a good alternative.”

So simply following the guides will not solve the over-fishing crisis. These guides help, but they should be improved. The world’s governments should create more marine conservation areas, with small organic fisheries located near the coast of most countries. Other solutions are being enacted. Will all this happen in time? Let’s hope so, as something needs to be done, soon.

The best thing you can do is to stop eating fish and other seafood. If you feel you must have them, buy small quantities of sustainable fish from a trusted source, as you never know how much of the information provided (such as how the fish were caught – one hook per line, or in a mile-long net that scoops up everything in its path?) is true.

Grist has a good story about this, and a great graphic.

Note: Mina Arasteh contributed to this story

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