April 25, 2012 -
Whole Foods, the Texas-based natural foods supermarket, no longer carries fish considered to be unsustainable. The Whole Foods ban includes fish that is either overfished or caught in a harmful way, according to their website. The popular Atlantic Halibut made the list, though the company will still sell Atlantic cod that is caught by hook and line or gillnets. "Stewardship of the ocean is so important to our customers and to us," David Pilat, the global seafood buyer for Whole Foods told the New York Times. "We're not necessarily here to tell fishermen how to fish, but on a species like Atlantic cod, we are out there actively saying, 'For Whole Foods Market to buy your cod, the rating has to be favorable.'" Here's a look at the list of fish that the superstore no longer sells and why.
Octopus Whole Foods uses ratings set by the Blue Ocean Institute, a conservation group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. The ratings are based on factors including how abundant a species is, how quickly it reproduces and whether the catch method damages its habitat.
Imported Wild Shrimp "At Whole Foods Market, we've been saying that our mission is to sell only wild-caught fish that has been responsibly caught. For a few years now, we've used color-coded sustainability ratings, from green (best choice) to red (avoid), to help you make an informed choice. Now we're putting our mackerel where our mouth is: To support greater abundance in our oceans, we're no longer carrying red-rated wild-caught seafood!" the company wrote on its blog.
Tuna (from specific areas and catch methods rated "red") On their website, Whole Foods says that they stopped selling "species that were extremely depleted in the oceans, such as orange roughy, shark and bluefin tuna" years ago. The company uses the sustainability ratings of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Rockfish According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "In recent years, reduced fishing has allowed many rockfish populations to recover from low levels. Gear concerns remain, however -- trawl-caught rockfish should still be avoided."
Swordfish Some of the gear used to fish swordfish "accidentally catches sea turtles, seabirds and sharks," according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Skate Wing Skates are in the overfished category. Most are also caught with bottom trawls, which result in high levels of accidental catch.
Sturgeon According to Monterey Bay Aquarium, "Sturgeon farmed in the U.S. is a good alternative to most wild sturgeon, whose populations have seriously declined due to overfishing for sturgeon eggs (caviar)."
Tautog Also known as black fish, Tautog are considered a "vulnerable" species. They are found close to shore on hard-bottom habitats, occasionally entering brackish water.
Trawl-Caught Atlantic Cod Fishermen often catch cod with bottom trawl, large nets that skim across the seafloor. Trawling, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, "damages marine habitats and produces bycatch."
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Turbot A cousin of Pacific halibut, turbot are a right-eyed flatfish -- as they develop, their left eye migrates across the top of the skull toward the other eye on the right side. Turbot are yellowish or grayish-brown on top and paler on their underside.
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There’s no getting away from it: your average monkfish looks seriously badass. To all intents and purposes it’s just one giant head, supported by an after-thought of a body and capped with a cavernous mouth fringed with razor-sharp teeth. If that isn’t the kind of thing to keep you awake at night, you’re a braver person than me. Or possibly another monkfish.
Also known as the goosefish, these bottom-dwelling Atlantic fish use their pectoral fins to ‘walk’ along the seabed until they find a spot to their liking, at which point they half-bury themselves in the sediment and use a fishing ‘lure’ at the end of a long antenna to tempt potential prey to their fate.
But when New England fishermen began finding the remains of birds called dovekies (Arctic seabirds that are the smallest members of the puffin family) in the stomachs of monkfish they had caught – well, that was something of a surprise. For one thing, although predation of birds by fish (or, for that matter, by cephalopods) is not without precedent, there remains little understanding of how frequently it occurs.
Stomach studies of New England fish caught on research cruises show that spiny dogfish, Atlantic herring, pollock, Atlantic cod, red hake, and fourspot flounder also eat birds; and it’s reasonable to infer that something called the goosefish might have avian tastes. But monkfish generally feed at depths well outside the range of dovekies, which can dive to about 100 feet in pursuit of small fish, crustaceans and zooplankton.
In an attempt to figure out what was happening, scientists with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and the United States Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center tagged monkfish to study their movements, and found that, on occasions, goosefish in fact will swim up to near-surface waters at night – either to spawn or to take advantage of ocean currents they use to migrate onshore or offshore. It is unlikely that they actively seek out dovekies when they do so, but rather that the birds, diving for their food, are attracted by the fishes’ lures and swim to their doom. In other words, for dovekies it’s a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s possible, notes lead researcher Matthew Perry of USGS, that other birds get out of Dodge each evening to avoid the prospect of becoming goosefish food.
“I was studying long-tailed ducks and thought, to avoid being eaten, these birds fly 30 to 50 miles to Nantucket Sound each night and return to the ocean in the morning,” Perry said in a press release announcing the findings, which are published in the online journal Northeastern Naturalist. “People ask why don’t dovekies fly to Nantucket Sound at night like the long-tailed ducks to avoid goosefish? My explanation is that dovekies have small wings and can’t make the routine flight.”
Photograph: NOAA researcher Larry Alade holds a tagged goosefish, or monkfish, prior to release during a cooperative monkfish migration study with commercial fishermen in 2009 and 2010. Photo credit: Pasha Ivanov