Should Eco-Tourists Really Eat the Chilean Sea Bass?

Travel Blog  •  Joanna Kakissis  •  02.06.09 | 11:25 AM ET

Photo by star5112 via Flickr (Creative Commons).

I love to eat fish. Stewed, grilled, broiled and curried, as ceviche or in sushi—wherever I travel, I seek out the restaurants that know how to pick it fresh and prepare it well. Or used to, anyway. After recently hearing about a book, “An Unnatural History of the Sea,” and realizing that humans have essentially overfished many species to the brink of collapse, I’ve decided to use the Blue Ocean Institute’s FishPhone when I want to order seafood at a restaurant or buy it at a grocery store. For instance: I want to order snapper, a favorite, but I have no idea if it’s one of the species that’s at risk. I text the FishPhone (FISH SNAPPER) send to 30644 and within seconds, this ominous note returns: “Snapper (RED) significant environmental concerns; fisheries management is poor and populations are declining.” Eek.

The institute’s online guide is a grim list of fish ruined by habitat-destroying trawlers (i.e. orange roughy) and illegal and unregulated fishing (i.e., the ever-popular Chilean Sea Bass). The once-abundant Atlantic cod, for example, hasn’t recovered from decades of massive overfishing even after very heavy management by fisheries. There are examples of sustainable populations such as farm-raised tilapia and wild-caught Alaska salmon.

If you truly want to be an environmentally responsible tourist, staying at a sustainable resort that recycles or uses solar panels or doesn’t raze the surrounding ecosystem is really only part of the equation. Food choices also matter very much. Locally grown produce doesn’t need to be transported great distances (i.e. less carbon emissions), and selecting seafood that’s more abundant and better-managed can really make a difference in ocean life.

Tilapia, by the way, makes for a mean Aegean fisherman’s chowder.

Joanna Kakissis's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, among other publications. A contributor to the World Hum blog, she's currently a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

5 Comments for Should Eco-Tourists Really Eat the Chilean Sea Bass?

Zach 02.06.09 | 5:42 PM ET

Eco-tourists who want a good meal should eat it—it’s delicious!

Jacqueline Church 02.07.09 | 2:31 AM ET

There are many other fish, equally delicious, that are not near extinction. No one, especially anyone calling them selves “eco” enviro or green should buy or eat Patagonian Toothfish.

That said, it’s not always that easy to identify what is sustainable and what is not. This partly explains the popularity of Teach a Man to Fish - the sustainable seafood blog event. Chefs, food writers, home cooks, conservation minded Moms trying to get a healthy dinner on the table, all join in sharing recipes, tips, resources. I compile them all in a massive annual resource guide including pocket guides for many places around the country and globe, books, videos for kids, etc.

There are choices we can make that have better impacts, and worse ones, for our families and the planet. Time is running out for many species too delicious for their own good!

Jacqueline Church
The Leather District Gourmet

Ling 02.07.09 | 10:01 AM ET

Obvious solution would be to leave it to the experts, and increase teh number of organic restaurants. If the restaurants say they use sustainable produce, then we shouldn’t need to have to worry about what we’re eating inside it.

pam 02.08.09 | 1:44 AM ET

It makes me crazy that there are no labeling rules that make it easy to learn about the source of your fish. This is kinda an obsession of mine and because I’m too cheap to pay for an iPhone with the Seafood Watch app on it, I’m still making mistakes in the supermarket. I’m super psyched to learn about the FishPhone line!

I was talked in to buying sea bass by my fish guy who insisted that it came from a sustainable fishery. It was indeed really freakin’ perfect, wow, was it good, but reading up on it later, I just felt weird. This happens to me way to often - I buy some fish because I’m convinced it’s okay, go home, make dinner, do more research and oh, crap. At least the last time I didn’t like the fish - it was shark - and I’ll remember not to buy it because of that reason alone.

Up in BC, they have the Ocean Wise program and your menu tells you if your fish is a sustainable choice. Wow, that’s easy. I’m for that.

Ron Mader 02.13.09 | 2:35 PM ET

Foodies unite! It’s time to make tourism more eco and this includes what we eat. This essay explains the issue on the table and I’m going to add the link to my delicious account so we can include this in the reading for the online Food, Health and Building Communities review.

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