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Aquarium looks to the future of the oceans -- and seafood consumers

October 20, 2009 | 12:02 am


The nutrition experts say eat more fish. But then marine scientists say the oceans are being depleted and many species are increasingly threatened. What's a healthful eater who cares about the planet to do?

One answer is to eat from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Super Green" list of seafood that's good for people and the planet. It's part of the aquarium's "State of Seafood" report issued today. The report says that prospects for the oceans are improving with a growing consensus of how to manage wild and farm fishing.

The report sets out significant problems that remain for the oceans, and the primary factor in the oceans' decline is the human demand for seafood, the report says. Industrial-scale fishing has threatened commercial fisheries and threatened populations of animals including whales, tunas and sharks, it says. It notes that "bycatch," the unintentional capture of animals in fishing gear, is the single greatest threat for nearly 250 species of ocean animals.

"Ocean life is still in decline and we clearly need to take urgent action to turn things around," says Julie Packard, executive director of the aquarium. "The good news is that we know what it will take and that key players are working more closely than ever to solve the problems."

The report notes some positive developments: a consensus set of principles for restoring ecosystems and commercial fish populations; commitments from major seafood buyers to sustainable sources; and improved government policies to manage fisheries and fish farming. And, the report says, there is a growing public awareness of the need to take action.

The report says that the world seafood supply was 110 million tons in 2006 -- eight times what it was in 1950, with Asia accounting for more than half the global catch. And in the next year, people will eat more farmed seafood than wild for the first time.

Farmed fish, the report says, can help fight hunger, but aquaculture also can cause pollution and disease among other problems. It cited some success stories, including arctic char, eaten as an alternative to salmon and raised on land in tank systems that don't harm the oceans.

While the health benefits of seafood have been well documented, seafood also contains risky toxins such as mercury. The aquarium's report says no accepted methodology exists for quantifying the risks and benefits of eating seafood with high contaminant levels, though U.S. authorities have recommended that children, pregnant women and others avoid certain fish, including shark and swordfish.

The "Super Green" list was developed in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health and the Environmental Defense Fund.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the aquarium and the 10th anniversary of its Seafood Watch program, which advised people on what fish to buy and to avoid for their health and that of the oceans. The aquarium says it has distributed 32 million Seafood Watch pocket brochures.

-- Mary MacVean

Aquaculture photo courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium