Vail Greener Pastures: Shopping for fish requires soul searching |

Vail Greener Pastures: Shopping for fish requires soul searching

Cassie Pence
Greener Pastures
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – Even in a land-locked state, all eyes are on the ocean. Upward of 40,000 barrels of oil continue to spill into the Gulf of Mexico a day, and even though the photos of oil-dipped wildlife are heart wrenching, selfishly, it has me thinking about the fish in the food chain. Is it safe to eat?

Julie Packard, executive director of Monterey Bay Aquarium, the good people who bring us Seafood Watch, a definitive guide on sustainable seafood choices, says in her blog that the oil spill will affect many popular commercial species, including wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic; snappers caught in the same waters; wild Eastern oysters; groupers; U.S. farmed oysters and U.S. farmed shrimp.

And most concerning, she writes, it will affect the already heavily threatened Atlantic bluefin tuna, fish that arrive every April and May to spawn in the Gulf of Mexico and in the waters “at the heart of the Deepwater Horizon spill.”

Still, Packard recommends to support Gulf fishing communities and continue to buy Seafood Watch’s “Best Choice” from the Southeast region. Best choice means it’s abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. The guide, which comes out annually, divides the U.S. into six seafood regions, like Southeast (the Gulf) and Central U.S. (where Colorado lands) and offers the “Best Choice,” “Good Alternatives” and “Avoid.”

Slow Food USA’s blog, an organization committed to supporting good, clean and fair food, agrees with Packard and says: Eat Gulf seafood. The spill threatens an entire culture on Louisiana’s coastline, Slow Food worries, “from the fisherman to chef to impassioned eaters,” like Slow Food’s constituents.

Slow Food claims that seafood has to meet the greatest safety regulations of any food industry in the United States, and in Louisiana, every catch must come with an absolute point of origination, guaranteeing the safety and that the seafood was not caught in already closed sections of the Gulf.

President Obama assured people while he was in Theodore, Ala., that the seafood is safe to eat. Obama said that the Food and Drug Administration (USDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association are stepping up their efforts to keep the food supply safe. State and federal agencies will monitor fish caught near restricted areas, too. All U.S. seafood is subject to fairly rigorous inspections by food scientists before it can be sold (the same cannot be said for Asian imports).

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, prominent yoga teacher Aadil Palkhivala in his monthly newsletter urged yogi’s not to eat fish, and suggested that we may have to stop eating fish all together until there is total disintegration of the oil itself, which may take decades. His theory is that the oil is polluting the water and atmosphere as it evaporates, and because fish cannot distinguish between oil and food, when they open their mouths, tiny tar balls are swallowed.

Personally, I align with the yogic thought. Fish are like sponges and absorb the health or sickness of the ocean. We already know big fish like dolphin and tuna carry dangerously high levels of mercury because our oceans are experiencing higher levels of mercury. These fish are like toxic dumping grounds. However, only about 30 percent of gulf shrimping waters are closed due to the spill. Still, I question the competence of the USDA.

There’s a lot of soul searching to be done in front of your fishmonger’s counter. There are a lot of issues to weigh – and balance – and the oil spill just complicates things even more. For me, every time I stand at the fish counter I go through the same pattern of emotions: delight meets guilt, and then as humans usually do, I rationalize.

First, I delight (more like drool) over the ocean luxuries that airplanes and the globalization of food afford. I swear – heaven serves strictly hamachi. Then, I feel guilty. I think about how I live in a land-locked state. I should buy Colorado lamb or cook up vegan stir-fry. I think about how if our fishing habits remain the same, ecologists and economists predict we will run out of seafood by 2048. And then … I rationalize. “I don’t buy fish everyday, and I’m cooking for a birthday party.” Or, “This salmon is wild and troll caught.” And I think about the many, many health benefits of eating fish, too.

Sustainable fish buying is quite a conundrum. I guess the best answer is to ask questions: Where did this fish come from? How was it caught? Is this fish endangered? It its habitat endangered? Then, armed with facts and recommendations from ocean watchdogs, like Seafood Watch, select the best choice. Urge your restaurateurs and fishmongers to know the facts, too, and also make the best choice, avoiding the purchase of seafood on the no-no lists.

And when you do eat fish, make sure you eat it with full awareness and respect. Honor the fish by simply knowing (and acknowledging) the people who caught it, the waters it came from and the fish itself for giving its life to nourish yours.

Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She and her husband, Captain Vacuum, own Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company. Contact her at

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