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Beyond Red Lists: The Power of Community-Supported Fisheries

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Breaking The Chains page and our Fish & Sustainability page.

Seafood lists, such as the popular one from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, have been the subject of quite a bit of criticism lately. This spring, the lists came under fire by fishermen after Whole Foods pledged to stop selling "red-listed" fish. Then Ray Hilborn, professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, and co-author of Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know, went on record implying the lists were too narrow, saying: "You can have fish that are overfished for decades but still be sustainable."

As I see it, seafood lists - like many food labels - have a clear, useful function. For the majority of the population, learning that a product is, say, certified organic or certified humane is an important first step. But more and more of us are choosing go deeper, and taking the time to learn about the farmers and ranchers who produce our food (asking them questions, visiting their farms, perhaps signing up for a share in their farm as part of a community-supported agriculture share, or CSA). Once you've started taking these extra steps (i.e. really geeking out), the labels carry much less weight on their own.

That said, it's much harder to get up close and personal with the people who bring us the fish we eat than, well, most other foods. For one, about 86 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported and comes to us through a nearly opaque system of production and trade. What is caught in the United States is generally made available through a series of middlemen and we have no idea who catches it, what their practices are, and whether or not they're able to make a living doing it.


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