Stewardship Monday: Healthy Plates in the Bay

In the United States we import 86% of the seafood that we consume, half of which is wild-caught. This poses challenges when trying to know what’s on the plate—regulations for harvesting seafood vary globally, and can have very negative impacts, as discussed last week. While international collaborations are attempting to enforce more scientifically based regulations on fishing worldwide, fishing in the U.S. has become a model for scientific management. In the U.S. management is handled regionally under 10 strict national guidelines:

  1. Optimum Yield: prevents over-fishing
  2. Scientific Information: provides basis for conservation and management
  3. Management Units: individual stocks and interrelated stocks of fish are managed as a unit or with close coordination
  4. Allocations: access to fishing are distributed fairly
  5. Efficiency: utilization of fishery resources is efficient
  6. Variations and Contingencies: allow for differences between fisheries, resources and catches
  7. Costs and Benefits: conservation and management measures minimize costs and unnecessary duplication
  8. Communities: the importance of fisheries, socially and economically, to fishing communities is strongly considered in management
  9. By-catch: by-catch and mortality of by-catch is minimized
  10. Safety of Life at Sea: human life at sea is made as safe as possible

Marine Protected Areas in California: In 1999, California State Legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA). This act is now the basis for a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) that are designed to preserve, conserve and rebuild our coast’s natural resources. There are currently 4 regions of our coast under protection, and plans to include the San Francisco Bay as the 5th and final piece of that network are under development.

There are different types of MPAs with various levels of protection. In some areas, certain types of fishing are allowed, and in others fishing is restricted or prohibited. There are “State Marine Reserves”, “State Marine Parks”, “State Marine Conservation Areas” and “State Marine Recreational Management Areas”. It is important to know what type of area you are in before fishing, collecting or even visiting in an MPA. This protection will hopefully ensure the improvement and conservation of our unique and important marine resources far into the future.

How healthy is seafood? There are many known benefits to eating seafood. It is rich in nutrients, such as vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, which promote bone, brain, immune and heart health. In fact, it is recommended that we eat a large variety of seafood more often to gain from these benefits. There are still concerns, however, about the safety of some foods, especially relating to mercury contamination. It is important to understand the issues to make sure that you are consuming healthily. Fish from the Bay are of particular concern due to contaminants both from historical sources (mercury from the gold rush) as well as continued pollution. Generally, it is recommended that the average adult limits their consumption of animals from the Bay to 2 servings per week (pregnant women should avoid seafood from the Bay altogether). For a more detailed breakdown of Bay seafood safety visit the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s page on the San FranciscoBay.

There are some great local choices that are good for you and good for the environment. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program calls these choices “super green”—they fall in the green, or “best choice” category for sustainability and have the green light for healthy consumption. This is only one of many sources that can help you make ocean-conscious choices. Maggie Ostdahl, an MSI instructor alumni, and a coordinator for the San Francisco Seafood Watch Alliance, writes:

“Some of the best places to learn more about sustainable seafood – aside from MSI, of course – are the members of the San Francisco Seafood Watch Alliance (Aquarium of the Bay, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco Zoo, and The Marine Mammal Center).  When you’re choosing seafood, consider using tools like the Seafood Watch guides or free smartphone App to help you find the best choices in grocery stores and restaurants – you may need to ask questions from your fishmonger or server to find out where your seafood comes from and how it’s caught or farmed!  If you need an evening out to dinner without sustainability homework, however, you might want to visit one of the local Seafood Watch restaurant partners, who consistently commit to serving sustainable seafood following the Seafood Watch recommendations.  Your choice of what to eat makes a difference to a healthy ocean – thanks for being part of the solution! Learn more here:

One of my favorite choices during the holiday season is Dungeness crab. The local Dungeness crab season opened last week amid updated regulations that are keeping it a sustainable fishery. Dungeness crab is easy to prepare and delicious with little more than some butter and lemon. Here are some great recipes to get you started with a decadent holiday feast that is good for you and for the ocean.


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