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March 20, 2008

Smart Seafood Consumption

-Discovery Islands Group, 2005

About to gobble down a tuna sandwich? Hold on there. Do you know where that tuna came from? Yes. It makes a difference. If it came from a destination other than the Canadian Pacific, American Pacific, or Hawaii, an organization called Seachoice recommends you avoid eating it.

I’m staring at a can of Gold Seal Albacore Flaked Tuna product of Thailand. I just removed it from my cupboard and it fits in the avoid category. Check your tuna before you buy it. You probably already do. But, perhaps you were looking for the friendly dolphin and weren’t paying all that much attention to the location on the planet where it came from.

Every time I go to buy fish, I feel confused and guilty. I feel like I never know exactly what I should be avoiding. I know enough to never buy farmed fish, especially not salmon. But, I always wonder about the wild salmon. What types? When is it okay to buy which type? I’m in the store and I see the little stickers that say previously frozen. So this fish is cryogenically sealed I think wondering for exactly how long? Isn’t it a contradiction to believe it’s healthy to eat fish to get more omega-3 fatty acids when we’re polluting our oceans and therefore why would it be a good thing to eat toxic fish? I almost never eat shellfish because making intelligent decisions around that seems even more complicated. Red Tide. Mercury. PCBs?

I’m glad that restaurants are beginning to provide what seem like exotic but sustainable seafood menu options but I just don’t see myself whipping up a little green sea urchin or a Geoduck clam at home.

Why am I telling you this? I’ve just spent time doing a crash course related to a job opportunity that has to do with fish, oceans and freshwater ecosystems and it made me realize that no matter how much I love the ocean and water in general, (hey, I am an Aquarian), I too often take fish and underwater ecosystems for granted. Given that oceans take up 40% of the surface area of Canada, it’s way past time to stop doing that. And, it’s not as if I’ve never experienced the wonder of underwater worlds.

I’ve been whale watching off Tofino to see the pacific grey whales on their annual migration. I’ve been on a week-long kayak trip through the Discovery Islands group. Our leader, Manuel, would reach down and remove a sea cucumber clinging to a rock just under the ocean’s suface. I’ve snorkelled off Kona in Hawaii and felt as if I’d immersed my head in a tropical fish tank at an aquarium. I’ve stood on the shore at the lighthouse on Mayne Island when an entire pod of orcas came swimming by, faster than a speeding train, and in spite of the awe that all those experiences inspired, I still find myself forgetting, too often, about the mystical underwater worlds.

I think it’s easy to do because like most people, I spend way too much time detached from the natural world. But, it’s clear that what’s underwater is just as much responsible for the “supernatural” in the Supernatural BC tagline as the forests and the mountains. It’s not just “purdy”. It’s our history. It’s inextricably linked to native cultures. It's a million dollar industry. It intersects with so many other industries and it’s the future. Or not. We decide every time we buy, every time we eat.

So, the next time you’re thinking of buying fish, or eating out at a seafood restaurant, take a second to find out whether you are contributing to the problem? What about all that sushi? Are you eating seafood that has been managed in a sustainable way or is in danger of becoming extinct. Where did it come from? Is it wild or farmed? Should you be eating there at all?

So how will you know this? You will ask. And, you will print out the guide from seachoice.org, fold it up, put it in your wallet, and carry it with you to make your fish and seafood consumption as informed and as guilt-free as possible. Piece of cake, or maybe geoduck!

For more information:

David Suzuki Foundation
Sign a petition against tankers

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