Monday, May 17, 2010

Farm Raised vs. Sustainably Raised Seafood: How Do Consumers Know What They're Getting?



Farm raised vs. sustainably raised seafood - when did we start hearing these terms and what on earth do they mean? For the savviest consumer, it's possible the two phrases have always been familiar...an important guide in determining the fish they ultimately bring to table. For me, it dates back about six years, when I began noticing the two terms popping up across seafood counters with increasing regularity. At the risk of sounding environmentally ignorant, I went about my seafood buying, never fully understanding the seemingly ubiquitous terms.

Until one day came the big, burly, man standing behind the counter. Bearing witness to my 'lack of understanding' he jumped at the chance to provide a reasonable explanation..."farm raised seafood was the smart consumer choice as the process allowed the fish to replenish within the farm's parameters - thus not interrupting the ocean's wild stock." He further explained how, "color added, was merely a term used to explain the fish feeding on organic carrots, to help enhance their natural orange hue." According to him..."farmed raised" and "sustainably raised" were interchangeable terms - simply translated, "quality control."

An uncanny resemblance to the trusted Gordon's fisherman...I believed him... and held onto his notion for sometime: farm raised = sustainably raised seafood. Generally more affordable, it was a simple concept that meant saving money, while saving the world! I was an informed consumer and life was good! It wasn't until recently I began second guessing the man's words and researching for myself how fish is brought to market - an eye opening, worth while exercise shedding light on a multi-faceted (and sometimes disturbing) intricate, global industry.

If you're interested in learning more, I recommend reading* The Sustainable Ocean Project's Three Part Article: Is Farm-Raised Seafood Sustainable or Not - discussing the pros and cons of farm raised fish, those species that are most sustainable and highlighting the fish that benefit (and those that clearly do not) from one method of farming to another. Not a huge commitment, the three tiered article is clear and concise, without diminishing the complexity of the issue. It left me wondering, like the USDA grading scale used to rate the "quality" of beef (though no doubt in need of major revisions)... why not a universal guide to differentiate our marvelously, mysterious creatures of the sea?

We keep hearing as consumers, it's our responsibility to educate ourselves. To be "socially responsible," means asking questions at the seafood counter and insisting waitstaff is knowledgeable as to the origins of the fish appearing on their menus. I say it's not that easy. In an industry where the term, "shelf-life" truly doesn't exist, the supplier's goal is to move their fish and while we can continue to ask questions, I tend to believe in most cases, we're placated with well rehearsed responses...grossly ill-informed.

14 comments:

braddockspear said...

Thanks for your kind words about my article. I like your idea of a USDA grading scale. About five years ago the USDA issued a rule that requires grocery stores to label non-processed seafood with the country of origin and method of production (wild vs. farmed). This was a big step (and a long time coming). Hopefully, our government will step it up again soon to make it easier for conscious consumers to make more informed decisions.

Gabrielle said...

I look forward to reading the article. I am always faced with a crisis of conscience when I buy seafood. Although knowing the origin (and wild vs. farmed) does help, it would be great to have a system similar to steak (Prime, choice, select). I would be willing to "shell out" (pun intended!) $$ for the best seafood available.

Chow and Chatter said...

I just posted a great clip from cnn on this issue
I write for an Alaskan seafood company and must say AL as a state does a wonderful job at strictly regulating fishing to make it sustainable it leads the World

shame I can't have a piece of your moms meatloaf!

Design Wine and Dine said...

Thanks everyone for your feedback and info - and Brad thanks for your article and your words above.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

I totally agree with we're left to make the right choices ourselves and it's difficult. I live in the mountains, far away from the ocean and fresh fish of any kind except mountain trout. There is absolutely no way the person at our fish counter (who strolls over from the butcher dept) would know one fish from another, much less sustainability unless it's on the label.

The Monterrey Fish site has some good information on this. I try my best to buy responsibly, but sometimes if I want fish, I don't have much of a choice.
Sam

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