Monday, November 3, 2008

Swimming Against the Current

By Mikaila Gawryn
Earth Ministry Outreach Associate

As I turned on the computer this morning the first thing I saw on my to do list was SUSHI. You might be surprised at how large a role sushi plays in my vocation. The truth is, I love sushi, and that love tends to creep into most areas of my life.

My sushi beginnings were humble. After a long day in the halls of my high school I would convince my friends to drive to the local QFC so that I could pick stale rolls of cucumber, rice and fish out of tiny plastic boxes. Surprisingly they were not as taken with this delicacy as I was. Looking back I assume I have either a stomach of steel or unimaginable good luck for having avoided food poisoning for so long.

I'll be honest, I've always had a small amount of indigestion, and as I increased the quality of my sushi purchases I realized it wasn't due to the gray lumps of wasabi from QFC. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a feeling that sushi wasn't a particularly neutral practice, environmentally speaking.

The first hint came in my sophomore year of college when I read about the clearing of coastal mangrove swamps in the tropics for shrimp farms. Mangrove forests house aquatic and terrestrial life in the zone between fresh and salt water. Human populations have co-existed with the mangrove swamps and reaped the benefits of diversity in these lively ecosystems. The Monterey Bay Aquarium states that over 3.7 million acres of the swamps have been converted to shrimp farms, an industry that requires farmers to move on after an area has been used because of the pollution left. This leaves a destroyed ecosystem and a transient population dependent on being able to find more untouched land.

Each time I sat down to enjoy a tuna role I realized that very fish had been swimming somewhere until relatively recently. I didn't know how healthy its population was, what continents it swam near, or how many flights it had taken to arrive on my dinner plate. I was disgusted. Sushi in Japanese tradition arose from an appreciation for simplicity and subtlety and yet it was overwrought by conflict and injustice.

No one seemed to know how to help. The seafood industry's transport maps look like bird's nests and sustainable harvesting methods are continually undermined by the fact that fishing laws have been created independently by countries. Everyone has a right to fish the oceans dry as they are not under the jurisdiction of any one governing body.

Although I felt alone in my seafood confusion thankfully far greater powers were at work creating change. Enter Seafood Watch. In 1999 The Monterey Bay Aquarium created a list of sustainable seafood for concerned visitors. From there an extensive program called Seafood Watch blossomed.

The Seafood Watch program provides information to "empower consumers and businesses to make choices for healthy oceans." The most recent addition to the extensive website is (drum roll please...) a Sushi Pocket Guide. The guide includes a list of best choices, good alternatives and seafood to avoid when enjoying your sushi. What is more it provides us with the information we need to be able to tell our chefs what we want. Communicating to sushi restaurants that we want sustainable seafood is one way that you and I can make a difference. Join me and swim against the current of unsustainable seafood culture.


Sources: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program

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