Something very fishy has happened in the waters off California, Oregon, and Washington—and it’s the best news I’ve heard in nearly two decades of reporting on issues related to sustainable seafood.
In an unprecedented step, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program (always my go-to source for which seafood I can eat with good conscience, and which I should avoid) has upgraded no less than 21 species of groundfish to either “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative.” Many had been previously listed as “Avoid.” The Aquarium’s move comes on the heels of the Marine Stewardship Council’s certifying 13 groundfish species as sustainable earlier this summer.
The species up-graded by Seafood Watch include sablefish, rockfish (often mislabeled as snapper) sole, founder, Pacific sand dabs (my favorites), pacific grenadier, and spiny dogfish. Overall, 84 percent of groundfish—species that live on or near the ocean floor—are now considered either a “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative.”
The rebound is all the more impressive because as recently as 14 years ago the West Coast groundfish fishery was declared a commercial failure due to collapsed populations.
“This is one of the great success stories about ecological and economic recovery of a commercially important fishery,” Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium said in a press release.
The turnaround should put to rest controversies surrounding two management practices. One involves setting aside “marine protected areas” where fishing is banned outright. The other is so-called “catch shares,” where each fisher has a scientifically established quota set on the amount of fish he or she can catch, essentially giving them an ownership stake in ensuring that fish populations remain robust. Both were important to the improvement in West Coast stocks.
The take-home message is that with proper management, we can have our seafood and eat it, too.