Diving into Sustainable Seafood
Seafood farming: Is it the wave of the future? Plus: Easy Vegetarian Meal Idea
What does sustainable seafood bring to mind? Does the idea of farm raised seafood conjure negative thoughts?
Seafood has always been one of my favorite foods (if I had to pick a last meal it definitely would include a beautiful Maine lobster with lots of butter for dipping). Unfortunately, wild-caught fisheries can’t keep up with consumers’ demand due to environmental changes, overfishing and stagnant growth of wild seafood populations over the last 20 years. In fact, the Global Aquaculture Alliance, soon to be rebranded as the Global Seafood Alliance, estimates that 62% of the seafood consumers eat will come from aquaculture by 2030. The truth is that science has been and continues to be an important aspect of the seafood industry. Science helps with basics like tracking wild fish populations and improving fishing strategies. Science also plays a large role in aquaculture aka “seafood farming”—the breeding, rearing and harvesting of fish, shellfish and plants.
Aquaculture is not a new concept worldwide. International laws impacting aquaculture however do differ among nations. In the United States we import more than 90% of our seafood, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Understanding more about our sources of seafood is not only important from an environmental and health standpoint but it has a huge economic impact. Data from 2017 indicates the U.S. had a $16.8 billion commercial seafood trade deficit, raising the question of whether we as a country should focus more on our own sustainable highly regulated aquaculture production versus relying so much on imports.
Asia dominates global aquaculture, the five major international producers of farm-raised fish include China, India, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Egypt according to data from NOAA. In the U.S. aquaculture production still lags behind much of the rest of the world, with 2013 data suggesting it contributed to 20% of all U.S. seafood production and fishery products by value. Interestingly, in the 1970’s the U.S. was the fourth leading aquaculture producer in the world, a time when the technology wasn’t as important on a global scale.
The most commonly farmed seafood in the U.S. includes oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp and salmon as well as smaller amounts of cod, moi, yellowtail, barramundi, sea bass and sea bream.
Living on the Chesapeake Bay, it’s hard to not to appreciate the beautiful ecological system that surrounds us. In particular, the important role that oysters play in keeping the environment healthy and providing a habitat for other wildlife. If the oyster were a body part, it would be your kidneys—filtering powerhouses, adult oysters can filter 50 gallons of water daily. The Chesapeake Bay would be in a world of hurt without these tiny little bivalves working hard to filter algae, sediment, and pollutants and creating habitats for bay wildlife
There are several organizations focused on oyster restoration like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The native population of oysters has been estimated to be as low as one percent of historic levels and restoring or re-establishing the species is a process. Interestingly, even oyster farms that produce sustainable oysters for profit are playing an important role in improving the bay’s ecosystem. It typically takes at least 18-24 months for oyster larvae to attach to a surface (then known as spat) and mature into an oyster that would be harvested for consumption. The length of time for growth and development provides the bay with a rich habitat that otherwise might not exist. For example, according to the sustainable oyster farm True Chesapeake Oyster Co.’s website prior to the establishment of their farm there wasn’t a single oyster present in southern Maryland’s St. Jerome Creek.
My dive into researching sustainable seafood only scratched the surface and it’s clear there is much more to learn that might challenge any preconceived ideas that we have regarding farm-raised seafood. It’s important to protect our beautiful oceans and waterways and I do believe in supporting local wild fisheries but it is also key to educate ourselves about aquaculture, which truly is the wave of the future.
Easy Vegetarian Dinner
Everyone needs easy weeknight meal ideas and my favorite are those that utilize pantry staples and fresh produce. This simple recipe can be customized to your preferences. I like serving these with an aioli sauce and simple side salad. What are your favorite weeknight meals? Tag us @thewell_alisonandari