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Living in New England it is so exciting for me to see fresh caught fish, scallops, and oysters at farmers markets. Recently however, it has come to my attention that ‘local’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘sustainable’.

There is certainly a risk in making assumptions…. we’ve learned this lesson repeatedly since childhood- ‘to assume makes an ass out of u and me’. But it happens so often, and in so many ways, and now I find myself making assumptions about eating locally. I’ve been blindly going into my new diet never considering that just because I make friends with the fish monger at my farmers market and I know he just got his catch in that morning, it doesn’t mean that he isn’t fishing a vulnerable species…. or perhaps isn’t using sustainable or ecological fishing methods. In fact, I don’t know what species are vulnerable, and I wouldn’t have the first idea what methods of fishing are better than others!

Seafood is deemed ‘sustainable’ when fishing practices look beyond meeting todays consumer demands, and consider the species ability for reproduction such that it can continue to meet future consumer demands. There are 10 standards which must be met by a fisherie in order for them to be considered sustainable (as stated in the Magnuson-Stevens Act): 1. Prevent overfishing while achieving optimum yield. 2. Be based upon the best scientific information available. 3. Manage individual stocks as a unit throughout their range, to the extent practicable; interrelated stocks shall be managed as a unit or in close coordination. 4. Not discriminate between residents of different states; any allocation of privileges must be fair and equitable. 5. Where practicable, promote efficiency, except that no such measure shall have economic allocations as its sole purpose. 6. Take into account and all for the sustained participation of, and minimize adverse impacts to such communities (consistent with conservation requirements). 9. Minimize bycatch or mortality from bycatch. 10. Promote safety of human life at sea.

So, does the guy who slings fish at your local farmers market need to be registered and follow all of these rules to be sustainable? According to some, yes. I would guess that fishers can be aware of these ideals and not have been recognized by the MSC. But, how do you know????? And, if you’ve committed to eating locally, do you rule out fish if it’s local and hasn’t been stamped with approval by the MSC? I guess everyone will have to come up with their own answer.

What I’ve found so far is that eating fish in general can become a slippery slope when you begin to look at all the possible hazards…. health-wise, and from an eco-conscious perspective. As we’ve seen in livestock production, the use of antibiotics on healthy animals has lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria. What’s more, ‘As much as 90 percent of antibiotics given to livestock are excreted into the environment‘. Taking the same system to the ocean with farm raised fish can lead to leaching in the water, where wild fish would then pick up antibiotic traces.

To add to the confusion, fish are constantly exposed to toxins due to their direct contact with water. Our oceans are a catch-all for waste, run-off and all the stuff we put down the drain. Knowing your waterways is key to ensuring you are getting healthy fish if you choose to eat locally. Also consider that choosing wild fish over farm raised may mean destroying an aquatic eco-system and farm raised may mean consuming hormones, and antibiotics!

Basically it comes down to doing some research. Shopping locally CAN give you an advantage because you can ask questions of the person who actually caught the fish, rather than a middle-man. Also take some time to find out about the waters your local fish would come from, and how fisheries in your area operate. There are certainly ways to eat healthy, local fish….. and when you get it, the taste and health benefits will make all the effort worth while!