The Beacon

Blog Tags: Seafood Month

Seafood for Thought: Are You Eating Mercury?

© Oceana/Juan Cuetos

Editor's note: October is National Seafood Month, and to celebrate, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts about seafood, sustainable fishing and health. Today we’re taking on mercury.

Maybe when you think of mercury you think of old thermometers. But did you know that mercury in seafood can affect your health?

As a result of antiquated manufacturing techniques, a few chlorine factories release mercury pollution into nearby rivers and streams, which ends up in the ocean, where it travels up the food chain, becoming more and more concentrated in larger and larger fish, including favorites such as tuna and swordfish.

What’s the danger of mercury in fish? Mercury is a neurotoxin and can cause symptoms such as headaches, foggy thinking, muscle stiffness, dizziness, nausea, and hair loss. Mercury is dangerous for women who are or may become pregnant because children are particularly susceptible to the effects of mercury poisoning.

The best way to protect yourself and your family is to learn what kinds of seafood have high mercury levels and to consume these only in moderation. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide contains information about mercury levels as well as about sustainability.

We’ve made progress over the years, both in requiring stores to provide information about mercury and in getting companies to switch to less dangerous ways of producing chlorine. However, mercury in fish remains an issue. Just this summer, Oceana was instrumental in convincing the Spanish government to release a study finding that more than half of mako shark and swordfish samples had dangerous levels of mercury.

You can learn more about mercury and you can also take action by asking Walmart and Sam’s Club to post safety notifications about mercury in fish.


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Seafood for Thought: Bottom Trawling

trawling infographic

Trawling infographic by Don Foley.

Editor's note: October is National Seafood Month, and to celebrate, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts about seafood, sustainable fishing and health. Today we’re schooling you on bottom trawling.

When you’re enjoying a tasty seafood meal, you’re probably not thinking about habitat destruction and accidentally caught marine animals. (Or at least I hope you’re not, it might give you indigestion.) But unfortunately, in many cases, before seafood gets to your plate, those two things may have been part of the equation.

Take bottom trawling, which is the most destructive commercial fishing method on the planet. Bottom trawlers scrape huge, heavy nets across the seafloor, destroying everything in their path. Trawling destroys more seabed habitat each year than the world’s annual loss of tropical rainforest. One study found that trawling destroys 16 pounds of marine animals for every pound of sole brought to markets.

Trawling is designed to catch as many fish as possible, and is used particularly to target shrimp, cod, haddock, flounder, and rockfish. Dredging, which is a similar practice, is used to catch shellfish like scallops and clams. Currently, more than half the fish eaten in the US is the product of trawling.

Fishermen have been trawling for years, but in the 1980s, technological advances allowed them to begin trawling through coral reefs, which they previously had to avoid to protect their fishing gear.

Unfortunately, we know now the huge damage that even one pass of a trawler can cause reefs. In one study in Alaska, as much as two-thirds of some sponges damaged by one pass of a trawler had not recovered a full year later.

Reefs are an important home for fish, so trawling can also ruin fish stocks into the future – even for responsible and recreational fishermen.

Recently, we’ve seen important measures to stop trawling. Earlier this year, a group of North Pacific nations, including the US, agreed to protect more than 16.1 million square miles of seafloor from trawling. Just a month later, Belize banned trawling from its waters.

We’ve made a lot of progress to stop this destructive fishing method. You can help by paying attention to the seafood you buy. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site to get their guide to sustainable seafood, also available on paper or your smartphone, and tasty recipes to make with these fish.


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One Fish, Two Fish, That’s-Not-What-I-Ordered Fish!

yellowfin tuna

Yellowfin tuna for sale. © NOAA

Editor's note: October is National Seafood Month, and to celebrate, we’ll be featuring a series of blog posts about seafood, sustainable fishing, and health. Today we’ll be focusing on seafood fraud.

Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about seafood and its origins for financial profit—and it happens as to as much as 70 percent of some types of fish. 

Fraudulent information can include where and how the fish was caught, or even what kind of fish it is. Seafood producers can benefit from fraud by labeling cheaper fish as a more expensive kind or by covering up illegal fishing practices that would otherwise make their fish impossible to sell.

But seafood fraud hurts consumers, and not just by ripping them off. People with seafood allergies could unknowingly eat fish that gives them a nasty reaction. Fraudulent fish can be tropical species with a disease called ciguatera, which can cause serious symptoms like pain, nausea, cramps, and reversed temperature sensations.

And seafood fraud wreaks havoc on conservation efforts. Mislabeling allows endangered species into the market and can hide fishing methods that hurt and kill other marine life, like sea turtles and dolphins.

How can you avoid being a victim of seafood fraud?  Processed fish is more likely to be fraudulent, so look for packages with the most detailed information about when, where, and how fish were caught.  Whole fish are more difficult to disguise than fillets—take our online seafood fraud quiz to learn how similar fillets can look.

We’re working every day to reduce seafood fraud, and you can help by asking your senator to pass legislation to curb seafood fraud.


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