At the intersection of marine conservation and social, economic, environmental and food justice

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Another seafood guide lets down consumers, and some really bad advice follows...

 by Sean Sullivan, NAMA's Marketing, Outreach and Development Associate

Sorry I just can't let this one go. I was reading up on yet another seafood guide, thinking perhaps this time someone actually got it right. In this case it is National Geographic's Seafood Decision Guide. Just the fact that it involved the word "decision" gave me cause for optimism. Finally, I thought a guide that focuses on making a decision, balancing tradeoffs, adding nuance to a complicated issue rather than dumbing it down.

Well, I should have known better. If anything this guide simplifies the rankings from Blue Ocean Institute and others into three simple metrics - Sustainability, Toxicity and Omega 3. No offense to you if those are the ways you chose your seafood, but get ready to enjoy many nights of herring on the plate.

Another example of how these guides let people down is the venerable Codfish, which scores among the lowest of all fishes in the guide. Yet locally our population of cod are doing quite well. Several fishermen recently told me that he no longer has to think to catch fish, just drops his net and hauls it back an hour later then heads home with a full boat of fish. In the world of wine it is not hard to accept that wine made from one vineyard can be world class, while another vineyard a few miles away produces swill. Why is that concept so hard for people to relate to the ocean and fish poplutions? People are not that dumb!

In any case, you the reader of a NAMA blog already know better than to go by a guide that treats you like a moron. However if you really want to be treated like a moron, you'll read this article on the benefits of frozen seafood I found on the NatGeo Guide page.

The premise alone had me giggling:
Eating frozen seafood used to seem like a punishment. But with today's technology, the fish you pull from your freezer is delicious, nutritious, more economical, and often better for the environment—and fishermen—than fresh-caught seafood.
First of all, almost all frozen on board operations are factory ships with huge nets, large amounts of by-catch fishing in less regulated fisheries. The economic, social and environmental footprint of these ships dwarfs the impact of a small day boat dragger - even if they are fishing for Cod! I'm not even going to get into the idea that frozen seafood could even come close to fresh seafood in terms of taste. There is a reason fresh seafood is prized by ALL of the best chefs.

Next they tell us:
Reduce your environmental impact. Fresh fish has to be shipped by air to reach most consumers; frozen can be freighted by ship, rail, or truck with significantly lower environmental impact.
 Um, wrong again. Frozen seafood if anything encourages imported seafood - witness the tidal wave of farmed frozen shrimp. Imported seafood travels a long way to get to the consumer, and freezing costs money and fuel. If you want to reduce your environmental impact buy local.
 • Keep fishermen safer. Without the urgent pressure to deliver fresh fish immediately, fishermen can have a safer time line in which to bring their catch from sea to table. They also can choose to fish only in the best conditions.
This is so preposterous as to be libelous. I can guarantee whoever wrote this has never talked to an actual fisherman. Frozen seafood is largely from less regulated fisheries on factory ships (or in mangrove swamps converted to fish farms) with little or no safety regulations. Factory ships watch the bottom line and improve it by skimping on safety. Factory ships do not "watch the weather". That would be our venerable day-boat small scale, low impact, high quality product delivering community based fisherman that watches the weather.
• Reduce waste in processing. By freezing fish at sea, fishermen can use economies of scale to consolidate processing, adding value with volume to the total utilization of the fish.
Well to be fair to the author, this is a really good point, I think. By consolidating just like the family farms a decade ago and the mom and pop shops of the last decade under the onslaught of corporate greed, economies of scale can be achieved. So, enjoy your frozen seafood from the big box store that was brought to you on the backs of a depleted ocean by giant factory ships and underpaid workers.

Actually, I have no idea what that last sentence means: value with volume to the total utilization? Whenever I hear someone talk like that I know they either have no idea what they are talking about or are a shyster selling something too good to be true. In this case it appears to be both.

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