Smells Fishy


Vincent Van Gogh. Bloaters on a Piece of Yellow Paper. Oil on Canvas. (1889)

Fish, and seafood are my non-vegetarian sources of protein. I love shrimp. Initially, I cut my consumption, to manage cholesterol, but more, after reading about the environmental damage caused by farmed-shrimp. Recently, a well-wisher was thrilled to find shrimp from India at the local store. (S)He bought some for me. I ought to be happy for a taste from India, but I was not. Why should we care? This is why, Mr/s. Happy-Shrimp-From-India?!

There are more than three good reasons. I have listed four!

Let’s only catch what we eat!
There’s 25% by-catch (fish that are accidentally caught in the net and thrown away). According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, “It is estimated that for each pound of shrimp caught in a trawl net, an average of two to ten pounds of other marine life is caught and discarded overboard as bycatch.” Not only that, by doing so, we deprive other marine life, who eat these fishes, of their food. Many are caught when they are very young, and die without having a chance to breed, further jeopardizing fish populations.

Give the sea floor a break!
The sea floor is a precious resource that supports marine life – corals, sea kelp, sand and gravel are home to many of our favorite sea food: scallops, shellfish, halibut. Dredging and bottom trawlers scour the sea floor. Once damaged, the sea floor takes centuries to recover. The 700-year old, 6-feet tall coral reef off the coast of Australia, has been destroyed by trawl fishing. Longlining, hook-and-line fishing, and trap fishing are all habitat-friendly methods. Some stores and restaurant specify how the fish was sourced.

A home away from home?
Farmed fish may seem like an excellent alternative to unsustainable fishing, by eliminating the by-catch and preserving the ocean floor. But this is not always so. Farmed oysters, clams and mussels are good choices, because they feed on plankton, and don’t require supplemental feeding. In fact, they clean the coastal water while they are at it. But other farmed fish need wild fish as fodder, and for their eggs. Unlike, mussels, clams and oysters, which are raised in trellises above the water, farmed fish are mostly raised in net pens. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, “Many farmed fish, including most farmed salmon, are raised in net pens, like cattle in a feed lot. Thousands of fish concentrated in one area produce tons of feces, polluting the water. Diseases can spread from fish in the crowded pens to wild fish. Antibiotics and other drugs used to control those diseases leak out into the environment, creating drug-resistant disease organisms. And if farmed fish escape their pens, they can take over habitat from wild fish in the area.” Imagine consuming fish that were floating in their feces – nasty!!

Shrimp from the tropics are often farmed by cutting down precious mangroves that clean the coastal waters. As waste acumulates – farmers move to newer mangroves to avoid exporting “Shitty Shrimp”. Over time, there are no mangroves, no shrimp, and no livelihood – we destroy, not two, but three [things] with one stone! However, shrimp farming is illegal in the US, and special traps that exclude sea turtles from being caught, are mandated for shrimping in the US. Even if Bubba Gump had survived Vietnam, he may have had one heck of a problem getting his sh’impin’ b’zness going in modern America.Who cares for sh’imp pizzas, anyway?

So for now, more mussles stewed in white wine, garlic, butter, and tarragon, please!! Yummy!

Teach a man to fish?
Was that humankind’s biggest mistake? There is only so much fish in the ocean – far less than to satisfy our insatiable appetite for sea food. This is simple math – if we catch fish, before they get a chance to reproduce, go back to “by-catch”. But don’t be alarmed – there are plenty of safe choices:

Here’s a short “green” and “red” list for fishes, we usually eat:

Green (Yummy!)

Catfish (US, Farmed)
Clams (Worldwide, Farmed)
Pacific Cod (Alaska, Longline)
Dungeness Crab (US, Trap-caught)
Crayfish (US, Farmed)
Pacific Halibut (US-Canada, Wild-caught)
Imitation crab (Worldwide, Wild-caught)
Mackerel (US, Wild-caught)
Mussels (Worldwide, Farmed)
Pomfret (US, Long-line)
Salmon (Alaska, Wild-caught)
Sardines (US, Wild-caught)
Bay Scallops (Worldwide, Farmed)
Shrimp (US, Wild-caught)
Striped Bass (US)
Tilapia (US, Farmed)
Trout (US, Farmed)

Red (Ugh!)
Atlantic Cod
Crayfish (Imported)
California Halibut
Salmon (Farmed)
King Scallops (Wild-caught)
Shrimp (Imported, Farmed or Wild) – see this Mr/s. Happy-Shrimp-from-India?
Swordfish (Imported)
Tilapia (Imported) – see this, too, Mr/s. Happy-Tilapia-from-China?

This seem confusing enough? For now, I am sticking with US-farmed tilapia, trout, mussels and bay scallops! Check out the list at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, for more. You could also print out their credit card sized sea food guide and carry it with you!

A little awareness, and moderation, and there is enough to eat for all of us! Enjoy!


  1. Yes, I have the Seafood Watch list in my wallet, too (for the past five years), but don’t look at it that carefully. You sound pretty much turned off shrimp altogether, though.


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