Something Fishy Going On: Learning about Sustainable Seafood

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By Cat Aboudara, Events and Special Programs Manager

Published 11.21.12

I was very excited to work with the Presidio Sustainable Food Club on the community event on November 17th because of the theme.  I initially learned about Sustainable Seafood from the biologists I used to work and volunteer with at the Steinhart Aquarium.  I volunteered at the Steinhart Aquarium for a few years and got a great education about apex predators in the ocean by working with some of them first hand. At first, it struck me as odd how selective the biologists were in selecting what and how often they ate from the ocean, but after my own interaction I began to follow suit.  My list thus far of animals from the ocean I will never eat:

• Octopus
• Squid
• Giant Sea Bass
• Shark

The first three animals I came to be more closely acquainted with while volunteering on Tuesday mornings in the Aquarium kitchen and on the tanks. I regularly helped with the tide pool, octopus, and giant sea bass tanks and grew quite fond of them and their inhabitants. On my last morning volunteering, I was given the opportunity to give the small octopus in the tide pool a sardine-on-a-stick. Seeing a tentacle tentatively reach out and then deftly take the sardine and then try to take the whole stick definitely made an impression - as did shaking hand with the giant Pacific octopus. I was constantly awed by the memory and intelligence of the octopi and their sense of play.

As well, every Tuesday, I spent time preparing squid in the Aquarium prep kitchen for the black tip reef shark’s lunch given later in the day. That duty has made me grown much less fond of squid. I’m not the only one who has worked in the Aquarium who has a list. I would often compare lists with the biologists I volunteered with, depending on what animals they had interaction with in the field or the aquarium influenced choices. Also learning about larger fish, the more animals a species eats makes it much more likely to have high levels of mercury content much like the giant sea bass. Many biologists told me that their seafood consumption drastically decreased with the increasing knowledge they gained working in the Steinhart.

Most people don’t know that the animals we are eating from the ocean are vastly different from the animals we eat on land. Bluefin tuna, sharks, octopus, and squid are predators. We eat chicken, cows, ducks and pigs on land, which are herbivores and omnivores. Eating a shark or tuna is analogous to eating a tiger. We wouldn’t eat a tiger, but the demand for seafood is threatening top predators in the ocean. In the example of sharks, John McCosker, Chair of Aquatic Biology at the California Academy of Sciences notes, “It's tragic for sharks, and tragic for the ecosystem…Sharks are top-level predators for the ocean ecosystem. And the oceans are collapsing. When the sharks go, there are no controls.”  With fewer great white sharks in the ocean, sea lion populations have already adversely affected the salmon population off the coast of Northern California.

However, it’s unlikely that most people will give up seafood like salmon entirely so there has to be more alternatives.  Which is why places that adhere to only serving sustainable seafood like Tataki Sushi Bar (and Fish Restaurant) in Sausalito are so important as our the sustainable suppliers like TwoXSea that work with them.  For those that don’t adhere to sustainable practices, The Seafood Watch Program and their guides put out by Monterey Aquarium comes in very handy.  It is a great way to become educated about what seafood is sustainable and what leads to imbalance in the ocean’s ecosystem and their research team updates it regularly. I have downloaded the application onto my phone and check it when I go out for sushi or seafood. I have angered many a waitress with that application! However, I am thankful I live in a place where sustainability has legs, ones that even extend out into the depths of the ocean.

Click here to view more photos from the Sustainable Seafood Community Event.

Cat Aboudara, Events and Special Programs Manager

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