WASHINGTON -- Bombarded with media accounts of both the health benefits of fish and the possible dangers posed by contaminants such as methyl mercury and PCBs, consumers are becoming more interested in sustainable seafood practices, a panel of experts said here in a seminar at the Natural Products Expo East show.
Modern fishing methods have helped satisfy world demand for fish, but innovations such as bottom trawling and dredging have decimated many of the world's largest fisheries, according to Rebecca Goldburg, senior scientist for Environmental Defense, New York. Overfishing isn't purely an ecological concern, panelists said. When wild populations of popular fish decrease, they pose more of a challenge to harvest, driving supply down and prices up for consumers. As a result, aquaculture, or farm raising, has become an increasingly important solution to ensure that demand can be met. However, the fishmeal used to feed farm-raised fish sometimes can be high in pollutants, they said.
"Consumers are beginning to make more of a connection between what's going on in the environment and how that relates to public health," said Urvashi Rangan, project director at the Consumer Policy Institute, Washington. These concerns are leading many consumers to seek out sustainable seafood -- fish caught in the wild by fishermen intent on maintaining wild populations.
"The force for positive change in marine conservation is the consumer," agreed Henry Lovejoy, founder and chief executive officer of EcoFish, Portsmouth, N.H. Lovejoy also encouraged retailers who offer sustainable seafood options to "provide as much information to consumers as you can. It adds value."
The panelists said that the new U.S. Department of Agriculture country-of-origin labeling requirements, set to be enforced by April 2005, will provide oversight to existing labels such as "farm-raised" and "wild-caught." Also, following the lead of European certification agencies, the National Organic Standards Board has established a task force to study organic certification issues for fish.