Published: December 2008/January 2009High Performance: Fish Nutrition

The Cold Hard Truth About Fish

Yes, you can be eco-conscious and still eat seafood—with a few catches.

Text by Christopher Percy Collier
Photograph by Nicholas Eveleigh/Getty Images

Americans’ seafood consumption—16 pounds per person per year—is at an all-time high. But the facts on fish are more confusing than ever. Health experts say we still aren’t getting enough of it, while marine biologists swear that if we eat any more, we’ll wreck the planet. Thankfully, there are responsible ways to consume seafood without contributing to the damage.

1. How Much Is Too Much?
The news from scientists is grim: Almost 75 percent of the planet’s fisheries have been classified as either overfished or depleted altogether. Some shark species, for instance, have been reduced by 99.9 percent due to overfishing in the past hundred years. Forecasters say marine ecosystems around the world will start to break down if fishing continues at its current pace. We could face a complete "global collapse"—meaning fish populations have been depleted by 90 percent or more—as soon as the middle of this century.

But things are looking up. In September, researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, published a paper endorsing a "catch-share" model of fish harvesting that could halt—and even reverse—the downward trend. This groundbreaking method divides ownership of fisheries among individuals, ensuring that fishermen comply with catch limits. "Now the answer is out there," says Tim Fitzgerald, a marine scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund. "It’s just a matter of implementing this plan on a large scale." Still, such a process could take years. And even if we do get our national fisheries under control, more than 80 percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from abroad.

Next: The Ethics of Consuption

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