MONTEREY, California -- Global prospects for securing a sustainable seafood supply and protecting ocean ecosystems are improving, thanks to a growing consensus on how best to manage fisheries and fish-farming operations, and new commitments by consumers, major buyers and the fishing community.
That's the conclusion of a benchmark research report -- "Turning the Tide: The State of Seafood" -- released today (October 20, 2009) by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on the 25th anniversary of the aquarium and the 10th anniversary of its Seafood Watch program.
"The State of Seafood" details significant and continuing threats to healthy oceans from mismanagement of wild-caught fisheries and a booming fish-farming sector, and highlights trends that offer hope for the future.
In conjunction with release of the report, the aquarium has launched a national campaign asking top national chefs and culinary leaders to take a "Save Our Seafood" pledge not to serve items from the aquarium's Seafood Watch red "Avoid" list as a way to restore ocean health. More than two dozen prominent figures have signed on already, including Alton Brown (Be Square Productions, Atlanta), Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, Chicago), Susan Spicer (Bayona, New Orleans), Rick Moonen (rm seafood, Las Vegas), Fedele Bauccio (Bon Appetit Management Co., Palo Alto), Michelle Bernstein (Michy's, Miami), Suzanne Goin (Lucques, Los Angeles), Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (Border Grill/Ciudad, Los Angeles), and Michel Nischan (The Dressing Room, Westport, Conn.).
The report also identifies a "Super Green" list of wild and farmed seafood items that are both good for human health and are produced in ways that protect ocean ecosystems. The list was developed in collaboration with scientists from Environmental Defense Fund and the Harvard School of Public Health.
Copies of the seafood report, the open letter from chefs and the Super Green list, are available at www.montereybayaquarium.org/seafoodwatch. The aquarium will update the report every two years.
"Ocean life is still in decline and we clearly need to take urgent action to turn things around," said aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. "The good news is that we know what it will take, and that key players are working more closely than ever to solve the problems. I'm confident that we can and will create a future with healthy oceans."
While many other human activities strain the marine environment -- including growing impacts from global climate change -- the primary factors in the oceans' decline today are related to commercial fishing: failure to consider the entire ecosystem when managing fisheries and aquaculture operations, and the rapid industrialization of fishing effort worldwide to keep up with growing human demand for seafood, the report concludes.
A century of industrial-scale fishing and ineffective management has left major commercial fisheries around the world in need of rebuilding. Many have collapsed. In addition, populations of large, long-lived animals, including whales, sharks, turtles, tunas, manatees, rockfish and billfishes, have plummeted.
Ocean wildlife caught commercially are not the only species affected. Bycatch -- the unwanted or unintentional catch of animals in fishing gear -- is the single greatest threat for nearly 250 species of threatened or endangered ocean animals, according to the report.
While wild fisheries have reached a plateau, demand for seafood continues to grow worldwide. In 2009, farmed seafood will for the first time eclipse wild-caught fish in the human diet. Yet management of aquaculture has not kept up with skyrocketing global expansion.
Yet for all the discouraging trends, there is an equally long list of positive new developments, the report finds. These include:
Since 1999, Seafood Watch has become a recognizable standard and reference point for millions of conservation-minded consumers, and for restaurateurs and major seafood buyers in the United States.
It has distributed nearly 32 million consumer pocket guides with seafood recommendations covering all regions of the United States, and partnered with Compass Group and ARAMARK -- the two largest food service companies in North America -- to help shift millions of pounds of seafood purchases to more sustainable sources.
"Our Seafood Watch initiatives address the most critical issues raised in 'The State of Seafood' report," Packard said. "They give everyone -- from consumers to chefs to major seafood buyers -- an opportunity to be part of the solution."
The report was released at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, which announced a new partnership with the aquarium to advance public and business awareness about the connection between seafood choices and the health of the world's oceans. The Center will collaborate with the aquarium on many programs in the months and years to come, and will open new Ecosystems exhibits in the spring of 2010.
"The California Science Center is extremely proud to partner with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in jointly presenting their report on 'Turning the Tide: the State of Seafood,'" said Jeffrey Rudolph, president and CEO of the center. "The educational promotion of sustainable seafood is at the heart of both our missions and we look forward to partnering on many events, programs and exhibits in the future."
The aquarium also announced a partnership between Seafood Watch and Santa Monica Seafood -- the largest seafood distributor in the southwest and an emerging national leader in sustainability.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is working with 14 other nonprofit organizations across the United States and Canada as part of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions (www.solutionsforseafood.org). Participating organizations have crafted a Common Vision for Environmentally Sustainable Seafood to help seafood buyers and suppliers develop comprehensive, corporate policies on sustainable seafood.
Since the debut of the Common Vision in 2008, more than 20 major companies across North America have pledged their support.
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