The Big 3: Shrimp, Tuna, and Salmon

If you read Blogfish, MBSL&S, and DSN, I think you see that Rick, Mark, and I are not advocating a complete ban on eating seafood. To the contrary seafood tastes good, especially with lemon and butter, and tastes even better if harvested sustainably.

It is no surprise that the recent Cooking for Solutions event at the Monterey Bay Aquarium dedicated a session entirely to the Big 3. Rick Moonen, chef for rm seafood in Las Vegas and author of Fish Without a Doubt, noted that 60,000 lbs of shrimp are consumed daily in Sin City alone. However, eating bluefin tuna is like scarfing down lions of the Serigentti. All three of these occur on the avoid list of Seafood Watch. Yet some species and fisheries of all three are sustainable.

Brad Ack, regional director of the Marine Stewadship Council, notes that navigating the complexity of do’s and do not’s with regard to seafood is nauseating. Presumably, a Ph.D. in marine biology would provide me with the tools to easily figure it out. But the choices are bewildering and often my choice is not to eat seafood at all. I can’t imagine what it is like for the typical consumer.

So below the fold I tackle the Big Three trying to distill down the information and make the choice easy for you.

  1. Shrimp: The most important decision you need to make is the choice of U.S. or Canadian shrimp over foreign typically from Asia. All U.S. shrimp fisheries occur in the best choice or good alternative categories of seafood watch. In the past, the bycatch from shrimp fisheries was of concern. Recent technological advances and regulations and largely reduced bycatch. Farm raised shrimp in the U.S. is also heavily regulated. If you want to be more discerning aim for Oregon or British Columbia shrimp. The bad news is that most shrimp available at your supermaket is from Asia. The good news is whether at the seafood counter or in the frozen food case the country of origin is usually indicated. On frozen shrimp look on the back toward the bottom.
  2. Salmon: Smoked salmon with cream cheese on a true New York Style bagle is a close as you can get to heaven on earth. If the salmon is not wild caught from Alaska, Oregon, Washington, or California avoid it like the bubonic plague. Farm raised and Atlantic are off limits not to mention taste bad.
  3. Tuna: Tuna is much like my first steady girlfriend. Wonderful but difficult and ultimately not worth the headache. I’m joking of course, but just about the tuna. Eating tuna is navigating a minefield because both your choice depends on both the species and the method of fishing. Unfortunately, the latter you are almost never likely to know. Soo…first always stay away from Bluefin. For simplicity, avoid long-line caught, although a few long-line fisheries are fine. For the most part, if you choose pole/troll or hand caught of anything but Bluefin you will be fine.
  4. msc.gif
    Marine Stewardship Council and some final thoughts: If you see the symbol to the left on seafood buy it. The Marine Stewardship Council is trying to make the choice easier for you. See the symbol and the fishery is fine and your off to the dairy section for butter. Unfortunately, I have rarely seen this at my local supermarkets. Although today I just saw Halibut, my current cod replacement, today at Safeway with the MSC logo. Admittedly, I don’t shop at Whole Paychecks and they may carry some. Keep in mind that in the future MSC is working with Wal-Mart (not a typo) placing more products and working with actual fisheries to move them toward sustainability. We also need to keep in mind that we have to come to the realization, and as the Big 3 panel mentioned, that sustainability is going to cost more. It was also mentioned that limiting our portions, go 4oz instead of 6oz, was also important. Ultimately, we need to address whether the demand for the Big 3 can even be sustainable. With global population growth we may not all be able to eat the Big 3 every day. Another interesting idea was that maybe instead of focusing on species, we need to focus on ecosystems. Besides ecologically making sense, this would considerably simplify the consumer choice. Imagine being at the store and purchasing seafood because you know everything from the Gulf of Maine is sustainable…lobster, cod, crab, scallops, salmon, etc…everything. Sure it’s a dream but o what a beautiful one.

17 Replies to “The Big 3: Shrimp, Tuna, and Salmon”

  1. Bycatch from trawling has been reduced? Thats good news. It was running 10 to 1 when I was on the east cost 20 years ago. How did they do it? What are the numbers now?

  2. The Aquarium FAQ suggests that rates are near 5%. I am looking for actual annual bycatch data. Will plot and post soon.

  3. The wild Atlantic salmon fishery is commercially dead due to overfishing and probably habitat damage. Commercial fishing for the species is prohibited. Almost all Atlantic salmon sold in the US comes aquaculture. These aquaculture operations are consistently criticized for environmental and health concerns.

  4. How are aquacultured shrimp sustainable if they’re still being fed fish product? The last I heard, soy, algae and insect meal aren’t viable alternatives yet.

  5. In the U.S., most industrial shrimp farms use algae (Chaetoceros muelleri) and brine shrimp nauplii (Artemia) at early stages and may switched to krill later. In smaller farms in ponds natural phytoplankton is relied upon.

    The Blue Ocean Institute notes

    In 2002, fishmeal and fish oil comprised on average 23% and 2%, respectively, of global shrimp feeds (Tacon 2004). Some U.S. shrimp farms may use feed that contains less fishmeal. Pacific Whiteleg Shrimp – the predominant species raised in the US – feed at a lower trophic level than Tiger Shrimp – the other species that constitutes a major fraction of world farmed shrimp production. However, we are aware of no data on fishmeal and fish oil use in U.S. shrimp feeds.

  6. My grocery store carries the really small canadian arctic shrimp. They are way more tasty then the bigger Pandalus shrimp shrimp from Asia and can have more uses in salads and cooking because of their size.

  7. Does anyone know what is happening to the samon population in california. I keep hearing reports about how the numbers have been drastically reduced but no one in the media really says why the numbers are diminishing. What I really would like to know is aside from banning fishing of the salmon is there anything that is being done to help rehab the population?

  8. Sarah,
    Great questions. Indeed you are correct that CA salmon populations are low. 2008 is closed to salmon fishing. A minimum of 122,000 to 180,000 salmon returning to spawn in the rivers are needed to provide eggs for hatcheries, spawning in rivers, and allow for ocean and river salmon seasons. This year 54,000 adults are projected to return this fall.
    The cause is really unknown. Likely candidates are environmental factors that may not be anthropogenic. Of course, in the grand scheme it is unclear how climate warming, damning, management practices, may have exacerbated the situtation. A statement by the NMFS states that “n freshwater, the major recent regional event that would likely affect river flows or temperature in a number of basins was the severe California drought in 2007…Coast-wide observations showed that 2005 was quite an unusual year for the northern California Current, with delayed onset of upwelling, anomalously high surface temperatures, and very low zooplankton biomass”.

  9. Hmm, as much as I like the taste of the big three I also like to actually see, no pun intended, my seafood in the wild. I have been known to take a nice Hogfish or a spiny lobster home with me from the reefs where I live near Ft. Lauderdale Florida. This is usually accomplished by scuba diving off of my kayak.

    However it is very difficult to get reliable data about the true health of our reefs. Specifically the lobster population seems to have been on a steady decline for some time now. There is also the never ending blame the other guy game between commercial lobstermen and us sportdivers. Though I’m sure the truth lies somewhere in between.

    Can anyone point me to some hard data as to what is happening on our reefs (meaning South Florida).

    BTW I’m not a marine scientist but I am aware that there is going to be an international coral reef symposium happening here in my back yard I’m sure there will be a paper or two about the current situation presented there this summer, maybe you guys have some inside information?

  10. Fernando,

    Your reefs are in serious decline for a number of reasons including overfished herbivores, nutrient input from local watewater, and climate change.

    The 11th International Coral Reef Symposium will address all these and more July 7-11. I’ll be there, so I can be your inside man. Why don’t you register for the event?

    Link here:


  11. Thanks for the link Peter, I’ll check into it, maybe I’ll register and take the week off from work to attend as a guest.
    BTW if you’d like to drop me a line my email is fred underscore magyar at yahoo dot com and the dive club I’m a member of is

  12. What I would really like to see is a similar set of “acceptable/avoid” guidelines for those of us living in the UK and Europe. Do you know of any?

  13. A gentleman whose new yacht I delivered – he had made millions selling frozen food – warned me not to eat anything but locally caught prawns (including langoustines for Luna and other Brits). He said that mass-produced shellfish from the far east is the next great food contamination/poisoning problem.

  14. Luna: Marine Conservation Society has a similar guide to EDF’s Seafood Selector or Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide. I believe it is most applicable to the UK, but would probably help for the rest of Europe, too.

  15. Tim Fitz, thank you. That’s *exactly* what I was after.

    Peter Mc — most of the prawns available around here are processed already, with no origin available on the labelling, so I just avoid them all as a matter of principle. I suspect most of them are SE Asia farmed.

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