It's time to wake up from your apathy

I don't know what's more depressing these days, learning that almost 10% of Canadians are on anti-depressants or that scientists recently discovered traces of antidepressants in 10 species of fish in the Niagara river. 

Apparently scientists are concerned about how the levels of antidepressants will impact fish behaviour and possibly change the biodiversity of the lakes - which would obviously affect us all. 

But of course none of this means anything to anyone if it doesn't directly impact our health - at least not yet. I find it incredibly sad to think about innocent fish in the lakes, or oceans, or wherever, having to bare the cost of our environmental apathy. Apathy that will continue to perpetuate injustices in the ocean and in the world. 

If you were a fish, you'd want humans to care about your wellbeing right? 

You'd get mad if your home was being polluted with toxins and chemicals that were slowly messing with your biological makeup right? 

We have got to stop thinking of fish just as food but instead as part of the biodiversity that connects us all. Everything comes back to us and it's a fragile system that we have to protect. 

We all have a responsibility to learn more about how our choices and decisions impact the world around us. 

What stops you from trying? Write us @Seafishtales to share your thoughts. 

Preparing for Pickerel Tales

The Canadian lake fish, is a well-known sporting fish in Lake Erie. Well, technically, it could very well be an American-born-Canadian pickerel...but hey let's not get caught up in possible fish identity issues here... (Lake Erie is part Canadian, part American...get it?) 

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Today I spoke with Kristin, the co-founder and owner of Hooked Inc., a sustainable fish and seafood shop in Toronto. We're planning to order some pickerel from her for our upcoming Pickerel Tales event. 

You can't really buy pickerel from your typical Loblaws, No Frills, Freshco, or Sobey's in Canada. They don't really sell atypical fish, there's just no consumer demand. I did a couple of searches online and came across a bunch of independent fish shops that sold pickerel...but none quite like how Hooked Inc does fish...

I browsed through their website and this caught my eye:

"THE KEY TO EVERYTHING WE DO AT HOOKED IS RESPECT:
Respect for our customers and our team.
Respect for our fishers, fish farmers, and their communities.
Respect for the fish we choose to buy and how we handle that fish.
Most importantly, respect for the preservation, protection and balance of our wild waters."

In an industry that massacres fish as commodity to be consumed, I was drawn to the way that Hooked Inc did business. It not only made sustainability a core part of it's business model, but is also pioneering a paradigm shift in the industry. 

What does it mean to respect fish? I thought to myself. 

Humans don't even respect each other. How can we learn to respect fish? 

"All our fish are caught by fisherman we know on small boats that can regulate and control the catch. Any bycatch we catch in the short-set gillnets while fishing for Pickerel is sold here at the store."

Kristin explained to me during her busy day at the shop. Her eyes glancing around the store to make sure everything was okay. 

I walked around the shop and came across an interesting looking fish I'd never seen before. It was quite rugged and had very big and cute eyes. Aww, adorable. 

"That's a rock bass." One of the staff pointed out to me. "Well, it's one of the many types of rock bass out there." 

Maybe next time we'll do Rockbass Tales after Pickerel Tales? 

 

Whispers of a Moorish Idol

I wish I could leave with them,

Those bizarre looking aliens here.

They come here to visit us sometimes,

I wonder why they come so near.

Even though we don’t speak the same language,

I think in some ways they’re similar to me.

Can they tell that we need help?

Or that my family’s dying from sea to sea?

The corals keep disappearing here,

The waters burn my skin and eyes,

I keep trying to tell them my story,

But why can’t they hear our cries?

I wonder if their world is like this too,

If they even know what it’s like.

To lose your home, your neighbourhood, your friends,

To be completely alone.

Please help us tell our stories,

Or else soon I’ll be gone.

Pregnant? It's okay, you can still eat fish.

I often hear pregnant women say that they can't eat fish because of the high mercury content that could harm their baby's development.  

While this is a common perspective among seafood consumers today, a recent article I read claimed that the benefits of eating fish during pregnancy actually greatly outweigh the risks of mercury levels affecting the fetus. In other words, eating fish can make your child smarter! The question to ask then is really how much fish to eat before the risks outweigh the benefits? 

Philip Spiller, the former director of the FDA's Office of Seafood and his colleague Michael Bolger, the former director of chemical assessments at the FDA did an assessment to see if women should eat fish during pregnancy. Their results? 

Yes - pregnant women should eat fish, but with certain caveats. 

Currently the FDA recommended amount of fish for pregnant women is 12 ounces per week. “It’s important for pregnant women to understand that 12 ounces is not the edge of danger, i.e. that 12 ounces is not a dividing line between safe and unsafe or anywhere close to it,” Spiller says. 

If you're pregnant but crave seafood, be sure to: 

1) Check where the fish came from - fish from polluted waters like Japan's Minamata Bay are toxic to eat for example 

2) Not all seafood have equal amounts of mercury - for example, shrimp have lower levels of mercury than tuna 

3) Choose a fish that is high in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and low in methyl mercury

4) The 8–12 ounce-of-fish-per-week FDA guideline should be viewed as an optimum range for enhancing neurodevelopment, not a maximum past which fetal harm is guaranteed

5) Eat cooked vs. raw fish - this kills off anything that could harm your baby

It's salmon season now.

So if you're pregnant, leave the fear behind and go indulge! 

Yellow Perch Tales

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I am a yellow perch from Lake Erie and I’ve seen my fair share of perch disappearances. The problem is that none of my friends believe me when I tell them that perch disappear in our waters.

Last weekend I was swimming among the weeds with my favourite school of perch when I came across what looked like a worm wiggling in the distance. I was hesitant at first and remained cautious. I slowly approached the wiggling worm and then backed off. I stayed around the worm but I just couldn’t see it clearly.

Life as a Yellow Perch is tough, as you know. We must be careful of everything from trout to bass to even birds. Not to mention those bigger perch that accidentally eats us because they couldn’t see clearly. How scary!  

I was so hungry that day, it wasn’t yet summer and mosquitoes weren’t around. I would have eaten a minnow or crayfish but I hadn’t seen one in ages! Our lake is changing every day and I was so desperate for something to eat. But something in me told me to stay away from that worm.

Then, before I could change my mind, a perch from the distance swam closer to it and took a bite.

That was supposed to be my worm!

Immediately after that perch swallowed the worm, its whole body shot up towards the surface of the water. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was gone! The yellow perch was gone.

Where did it go?!

Startled, I swam to where I saw the perch last. It had left nothing behind, no trace, no scent, nothing – as if it never existed.

Maybe I’m seeing things... After all, my vision wasn’t the greatest.

I looked around me – plenty of other yellow perch around, swimming nonchalantly as if nothing had happened. 

I swear I'm not crazy...that perch really did disappear! 

5 principles for eating sustainable seafood

I love sushi. I don't think I could go without it. I also love the ocean - and sometimes when I eat sushi I can unknowingly make choices that hurt the ocean. 

So what should someone like me do? 

While there are many great resources out there like Seafood Watch and Sea Legacy. Here are 5 general principles that have really helped me make more responsible decisions when it comes to eating seafood and sushi. 

1.     Eat fish that’s in season

Did you know that fish are seasonal? When you eat fish that's not in season, you end up eating frozen fish and you create demand for fisheries to overfish particular species. Take salmon for example - salmon, a very common fish in sushi, is in season around May - November. This means they spawn within this period and have the opportunity to repopulate the oceans with their eggs (roe). If you eat salmon out of season, you don't give them an opportunity to reproduce, making them more susceptible to overfishing and eroding the global salmon population. 

But what if I want to eat salmon all the time? Then you should be aware that there are consequences. Wholefoods has a great seasonal seafood calendar to help you navigate what's in season and what's not. 

2.     Eat fish that's local

Where you live should influence what kind of fish you eat.

If you live in California you can easily get California halibut, ling/black cod, and sea bass. If you live in Toronto or Boston, shellfish are plentiful. If you live in Singapore, you have access to local shrimp, crab and all kinds of other tropical fish. 

Just ask your local fish market what's local where you live!  

3.     Eat smaller fish vs. bigger fish

When given the choice of salmon vs. mackerel, always choose the smaller fish. 

Why? Because smaller fish are lower on the food chain, they typically need less resources like other fish, plants and micro-organisms to sustain their lives. So fish like sardines, mackerels, and shellfish are more sustainable seafood options than salmon, tuna, and mahi mahi. 

4.     Know your fishermen

Know the provenance of the fish you eat.

Dare to ask questions about where your fish came from? Who caught it? How was it caught? Seafood transparency has a long way to go. Make a point to shop at fresh local seafood markets and try to get to know your vendors. You deserve to know where the fish you eat come from and the impact you're making with every purchase. 

5.     Try unpopular, "trash" fish

There are millions of species of fish in the sea. We only eat a select few varieties because they've been commercially branded as the pretty, edible ones. Tuna, salmon, halibut, bass, cod, shrimp, lobster, crab, etc. What about rockfish? Sablefish? Or even Jellyfish? Or the thousands of other fish that are caught and tossed back in the sea because they hold no commercial value.  

When you try fish that are unfamiliar to you you are eating with the ecosystem. You give common species a chance to breathe and you create market value for fish that would otherwise be wasted. 

 

You have more power than you think to make a difference with the seafood you choose to eat. 

    The key to sustainable seafood is traceability

    Where does the shrimp you eat come from? The salmon? The Tuna? 

    Entrepreneurs in Boston have developed a new technology to track the procurement of locally caught fish from fishermen to your dining table. Red's Best, Sea to Table, and Wood's Fisheries are all doing great work to bring transparency and traceability to the seafood industry. 

    The greatest contribution you can make to the preservation of our marine ecosystem is to boldly ask where your seafood comes from. 

    Did you know that seafood fraud is a thing? Yes. Seafood fraud. 

    According to a study conducted by Oceana which collected more than 1200 samples from 674 retail outlets in 21 states in the US, 33% of the seafood samples were mislabeled according to US FDA guidelines! 

    That means there's a 33% chance that your wild caught sockeye salmon might be farmed salmon. Or your halibut could be cod instead. Do you know what you're really eating? 

    We can all do more as seafood consumers to really question where our seafood came from, how it was harvested, and be more connected to its provenance. 

    Want quality seafood? Get to know your fisherman!

    Today I chatted with Maddie O'Laire, the owner of Smart Source Seafood in Homer, Alaska about sustainable seafood. Smart Source sells a few types of salmon, cod and halibut directly to customers in the US. The fish are fresh frozen right after they are harvested and then shipped out. 

    Maddie and her husband Mike started the company about 3 years ago when the business opportunity came up. Mike was a commercial fisherman before starting the company and had been fishing for over 15 years. Salmon is a plentiful resource in Bristol Bay and Maddie and her family cherish the fish they catch - nothing is wasted after they process the fish for sale.

    I was thrilled to learn that Alaskan fisheries were heavily regulated by the government, setting an example for the rest of the world in sustainable seafood. 

    When I asked Maddie what sustainable seafood/fishing meant to her, she said that first of all fisheries have to be managed well. There has to be regulations so that there will be enough fish for future generations. Beyond this, Maddie told me that fishing is a lifestyle and an identity for her family. She hopes that her children will be able to continue this livelihood in the future. For her, sustainability also means that her salmon business will have longevity and prosperity.

    When I asked her about the recent wild salmon tapeworm articles that I've been reading online, she didn't seem too concerned. "Salmon has always had tapeworms...but they usually stay in the gut of the fish. If they've been handled properly, the rest of the fish shouldn't be affected. If you cook the fish, the tapeworms will die anyway." 

    "What about radiation or mercury in salmon?" I asked. 

    "Well the Alaskan government checks the radiation levels frequently here so there's really no concern of that. In terms of mercury, salmon is probably the fish with the lowest levels of mercury because they eat krill and plankton mostly...compared to halibuts that like to eat crustaceans and other fish...In Alaska, they even encourage pregnant women to eat wild caught salmon!" 

    Maddie loves to help her customers discover the joy of salmon. It brings her such happiness to see that customers love her product and benefit from the nutrients of quality salmon. 

    I can't wait to try some of her fish for Salmon Tales in July! 

    If you want to order some for yourself in the meantime, check out Smart Source Seafood and order some delicious salmon. 

    Hammerhead sharks don't do well after being released

    Not all fish respond well when caught in commercial or recreational fishing as bycatch. 

    A recent study done by PHD marine biologists in Miami found that not all sharks respond the same way after being released from a fishing hook. 

    The research shows us just how unique each fish can be and that we must employ different methods of handling different types of fish to ensure their survival and sustainability. Just because we let a fish go after they've been caught, doesn't mean that the fish will survive the trauma and stress. 

    Species like the tiger shark are rarely affected from the stress of being caught on a fishing hook compared to their more sensitive cousins, the hammerhead shark. 

    Read more here

    Finding halibut

    In preparation for the upcoming Halibut Tales event in Long Beach, LA, I've been doing a lot of research on where the halibut you eat come from. 

    My research took me to wholesaler Los Angeles Fish Co. for a tour. Here's a whole small halibut fish. This is an Atlantic Halibut that's likely younger than 8 years. I've been reading about how commercial Atlantic halibut fishing is unsustainable and that you should always choose with Pacific Halibut instead. The reason is because the Atlantic Halibut fish stocks are heavily depleted since baby fish like this are taken out of the water before they reach reproduction age. The reproduction age for Halibut is 8 years old or around 30 inches long. 

    For more information on sustainable halibut, check Seafood Watch for details. 

     I'm so excited to share the story of the halibut fish with you all soon. 

    Stay tuned! 

    Dive deeper into fish sourcing

    I had the privilege of speaking with experienced fisherman, entrepreneur and industrial designer Malcolm Fontier about sustainable fishing and ocean conservation today. 

    Malcolm, based out of New York, has been fishing since he was 3 years old around New York, Cape Cod and around the world where there is opportunity. He just returned from fishing in Mexico. He said he used to fish in lakes but more recently have learned to love fishing in the ocean. When I asked him what types of fish he typically goes out to catch, he told me he likes to go out for striped bass, dogfish and tuna. 

    I also learned from him that apparently dogfish are plentiful in Cape Cod but are a nuisance to the local fisherman there. They are often exported to the UK for fish and chips and are delicious! I had never heard about dogfish until speaking to him. 

    Since Malcolm has been fishing for decades, I asked him what he considered 'sustainable fishing'. For him, it means to really know the source of your fish - whether that means going out to catch fish yourself, being connected to your local fisherman or just knowing how the fish you're eating ended up on your plate. 

    For those who have no interest in going fishing yourself, Malcolm believes that the key to sustainability is in "educating yourself to the next level about where your fish comes from". No matter if you're a fisherman, chef or sushi lover, we can all do more to get educated about fish sourcing. 

    Malcolm is currently working on a company called Upstream & Co. to tackle the issue of plastic waste in our waterways. He works with a team of designers to create products that have direct (products that clean and filter) and non-direct (plastic alternatives) impact to reduce plastic waste in the ocean. He's looking for marketers passionate about ocean conservation to join his team. 

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    To contact Malcolm or to find out more about him, click here

     

    How to choose the best fish

    When it comes to choosing high quality, fresh and properly handled fish at the grocery store or the market, we can all learn a few tricks. 

    For the best whole fish: 

     

    1. Check for eye clarity 
    2. Find a fish with healthy fins
    3. Non sticky, firm flesh = good fish 
    4. Choose Bright red gills over dark brown red gills 
    5. Shiny & firm scales = healthy fish 

    For the best filleted fish: 

    1. Avoid cracks, breaks or pooling water in the container
    2. Look for flesh that's wet and glossy 
    3. Find out when/how it was frozen (should be right after caught) 
    4. Thaw fish slowly, in the fridge for best results 

    Learn more about how to choose fish here

    Decline in ocean oxygen levels will have severe impact on marine life

    The effects of greenhouse gases could be even worse than we thought. 

    Scientists and oceanographers from Germany have found a decline of more than 2 percent in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010. Because oxygen in the global ocean is not evenly distributed, the 2 percent overall decline means there is a much larger decline in some areas of the ocean than others - severely impacting marine life species as we know them. 

    Declining oxygen levels can worsen global warming. Sea levels could rise twice as much as previously predicted. 

    See original article here

    The importance of sustainable aquaculture

    Aquaculture, or 'fish farming' is an innovation of recent decades to meet growing seafood consumer demand & overfishing in the oceans. 

    As of right now, Shellfish is the most sustainable form of aquaculture that exists. Oysters and clams filter the ocean as they grow. Other more commonly eaten fish like salmon and tilapia are also making their way to becoming sustainably farmed. 

    Watch this TED Talk by Perry Raso to learn about the importance of sustainable aquaculture.

    If you're ever in Rhode Island, go for a meal at his restaurant - Matunuck Oyster Bar! 

    LA restaurant Providence takes sustainable seafood to a whole new level

    It's always so inspiring and humbling to learn about chefs who care about the sourcing of their food.

    At Michelin star, LA-based restaurant Providence, chef Michael Cimarusti is an example of how you can serve delicious dishes that are both sustainable and creative. Providence partners with Dock to Dish, an organization that works with about 16 local fisherman in the Santa Barbara area to bring in at least 75 pounds of seafood every week. 

    He never knows what seafood he's going to get because it's all just that fresh! 

    Read more here.  

    Global fish stocks are in even worse shape than we thought

    Under-reporting of global fisheries poses a huge concern for the UN's Food & Agriculture Organization. Fish stocks are already severely depleted but research shows we are under-estimating how bad the state of the oceans are.

    Fisheries biologist Daniel Pauly co-led a team of researchers at UBC's Sea Around Us Centre to involve scientists from over 273 countries to estimate global fish stocks. "What we have to do is rebuild stock by not catching much and if we do that and the stocks rebuild then we get more diversity, more resistance against changes, even against global warming." Pauly concludes. 

    Read more here