It's the Environment, Stupid.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Organic Fish?

The latest dilemma in front of the Agriculture Department - what's the criteria for organic fish? An article from the NYTimes looks into the debate.

Is a free swimmin', ocean lovin' fish more "organic" than its farmed, fish-food-fed, carnivorious counterpart? Can aquaculture be considered under the same rules as agriculture? The latest recommendations put before the USDA for consideration: "the group recommended far less stringent rules, including three options for what organic fish could eat: an entirely organic diet; nonorganic fish during a seven-year transition period while fish farms shift to organic fish meal; or nonorganic fish meal from “sustainable” fisheries. Sustainable fisheries are those that ensure that their fish stocks do not become depleted."

While it may be a necessary evil, it seems to me that further defining regulatory terminology is missing the point. The bigger question that needs to be addressed is the health of their habitat, our ecosystems. Has the demand for fish really increased so much that we must rely on farmed fish to satisfy our seafood needs, or have we overfished and overpolluted our waterways so much that the "wild" catch has dwindled beyond our care?

Growing up in salmon country in the lush Pacific Northwest I've learned a thing or two over the years about our silver scaled friends. I can probably tell the difference between a coho and chinook. I've been to the hatcheries and seen thousands upon thousands of orange eggs, and at the dams have watched them struggle up those "convenient" ladders. I've even helped raise tadpoles, put them in creeks and come back to see if any of them have returned to spawn, and later covered the debates between officials and Native American tribes over fishing rights. I can't say I've seen a time when the fish were so abundant that they were jumping out of the riverbeds, but the fishing inudstry is not the same as it used to be and neither are the salmon.

This is where the consumer comes in - if we get too wrapped up in the organic label, the "wild" fish just might go by the wayside and no one will be the wiser. However, if the consumer can see beyond the organic label, and take a look at and appreciate the natural processes (a-la Michael Pollan's look at Joel Salatin's farm) we might be able to generate a sustainable fishing industry and save a few ecosystems along the way.

1 Comments:

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