Sustainable seafood in an unsustainable world


Lisa Duchene, SeafoodSource contributing editor

Published on
May 31, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is now a giant ecological catastrophe, the United States’ worst ever environmental disaster. Not only has it already dealt a monstrous blow to the Gulf’s current production of shrimp, oysters, crab and crawfish, but the future of the Gulf ecosystem is now in question.

An area covering about 62,000 square miles of federal waters in the Gulf is now closed to fishing, and the federal government has declared a fisheries disaster in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

A picture of a baby Kemp’s ridley sea turtle held in gloved hands while oil is washed out of its mouth appears on the McClacthy Newspapers’ Web site, along with Renee Schoof’s story about how the scope of the spill threatens the Gulf’s marine life — about 8,300 different creatures, some of which are endangered.

Beyond the dramatic and serious disruption in the shrimp, oysters, crab and crawfish fisheries, two likely impacts of particular interest to the seafood industry are the bluefin tuna and endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles.

The western stock of bluefin tuna — a magnificent, delicious and already severely depleted fish — spawns in the Gulf in April and May, in an area overlapping the Deepwater Horizon accident site, Dr. Barbara Block of Stanford University told ScienceDaily. Block is senior author of a new study on Atlantic bluefin habitat published in the journal PLoS ONE on 31 May.

Endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles are nesting now at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, and at Padre Island National Seashore in south Texas. And when they are done, anywhere from now until early June, they will swim right through the oil, along the coastline from Mexico to Florida, according to Schoof’s report.

In the late 1980s, the turtle nests reached a low of about 800. Gulf shrimpers are now required to tow turtle excluder devices (TEDs), and the seafood industry helped the conservation effort with turtle restoration camps. Prior to this spring, Kemp’s ridley turtle nests numbered 7,000 to 8,000.

The scope of this oil disaster is shocking. Now, BP and federal officials warn that the well may continue to spew somewhere between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels per day until August. The implications are mind-numbing. How can one company do so much damage? I am sick to my stomach and furious — we all should be.

Yet, we all are also complicit on some level because we all use oil. Every day. This disaster is a stark reminder that the reach for an environmentally sustainable seafood supply occurs in an unsustainable world.

Fossil fuels are not sustainable. Period. Yet, fossil fuels power our entire society and economy.

Yes, purchasing environmentally responsible seafood is absolutely critical — but is it enough? We all have to drive less, drive more fuel-efficient vehicles, support renewable fuels and be willing to change our behavior. Perhaps sustainable seafood is just the start, and your company’s policies and efforts can and should reach beyond seafood to related sustainability issues.

Has your company, for example, taken a position on offshore drilling? Or on renewable energy policy? Are your delivery trucks running the most efficient routes? How many miles do they get to the gallon of gasoline and can they get more? Does your purchasing favor companies that efficiently use fuel use less plastic packaging?

We all have to do more — because achieving a sustainable seafood supply requires a healthy environment. This disaster must be a wake-up call.

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