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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To avoid passing on certain harmful chemicals to their children, potential mothers may need to fast from fish for many years, according to a new study. Environmental scientists recently calculated how long a woman would need to avoid eating fish to reduce the amount of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that she may pass on to her offspring.
After one year of replacing fish with vegetables in her diet, a woman would only reduce by 9 percent her child’s prenatal exposure to a POP called polychlorinated biphenyl-153 (PCB-153). Five years of substituting veggies for fish could reduce prenatal POP exposure by 37 percent. A potential mother could reduce her future child’s prenatal exposure by 85 percent if she replaces fish with veggies for 30 years prior to childbirth. The journal Environmental Health Perspectives published the results of the scientists’ models.
In people, POPs have been linked to reproductive, developmental, behavioral, neurologic, endocrine and immunologic adverse health effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Current U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines aim to reduce mothers’ intake of methylmercury from fish, not POPs. Mercury can harm an unborn baby’s nervous system. Mercury builds up in the food chain, so expectant and nursing mothers should especially avoid eating predatory fish, such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel. However, mercury naturally clears out of a woman’s system after approximately one year in most cases.
POPs, including the banned pesticide DDT, also build up in the food chain. Unlike mercury, POPs don’t easily flush out of humans or animals. The chemicals build up in an animal’s fat, then are passed on to whatever predator dines on that fat. Predators at the top of the food web — including humans — end up with the heaviest loads of pollutants.
“We have to be careful in saying fish advisories don’t work at all because they can work very well for reducing exposure to quickly eliminated contaminants, such as mercury,” said lead author Matthew J. Binnington, doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto. “But for POPs we found that they are not very effective.”
Despite the potential for passing on pollutants, fish and shellfish also contain high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids that benefit children’s health. To avoid the contaminants, yet get the health boost, people can eat seafood known to be generally low in pollutants, including shrimp, canned light tuna, pollock and catfish, according to the FDA.
Photo: Fish for sale at Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo. Credit: Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons