Stuck at home? Cook some fish

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups urge the na­tion to sup­port Amer­i­can seafood op­er­a­tions.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By Rosanna Xia

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups have long fought for an­i­mal rights, ral­lied against pol­lu­tion and pushed back on over­fish­ing, but a new mes­sage this week urged the na­tion to eat more seafood as it hun­kers down dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Specif­i­cally, many are ask­ing you to please buy Amer­i­can-caught seafood.

“Over the past 20 years, Amer­i­can fish­eries have be­come some of the best man­aged and most sus­tain­able in the world thanks to pol­icy re­forms and the hard work of fish­er­men,” said Eric Sch­waab, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for the En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund’s oceans pro­gram. “But now fish­er­men need our help. By in­cor­po­rat­ing more seafood into our di­ets, we can sup­port fish­er­men and coastal com­mu­ni­ties that de­pend on seafood har­vest­ing as a way of life.”

The global spread of COVID-19 has trig­gered widespread eco­nomic chaos, and Amer­i­can fish­eries are suf­fer­ing due to restau­rant clo­sures and the col­lapse of ex­port mar­kets, ad­vo­cates say.

Al­though U.S. fish­ing op­er­a­tions and environmen­talists have spent decades butting heads, they have also worked to­gether to de­velop smarter and more sus­tain­able fish­ing prac­tices — turn­ing many fish­eries from fed­eral dis­as­ters into thriv­ing come­back sto­ries and pro­mot­ing health­ier oceans.

“The U.S. has some of the health­i­est and most sus­tain­able seafood in the world,” Sch­waab said. “By seek­ing out do­mes­ti­cally caught fish, Amer­i­cans can sup­port fish­er­men and the ocean dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time.”

In Cal­i­for­nia, fish­eries make up a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the coastal econ­omy. Dun­geness crab alone — the most valu­able seafood in the state — was a $63.5-mil­lion in­dus­try in 2018, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est num­bers from the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife. Squid that year was the sec­ond-largest, at more than $35.5 mil­lion.

Seafood harver­sters across Cal­i­for­nia were grate­ful for the sup­port from en­vi­ron­men­tal groups. Ex­ports have al­ready been hurt­ing — es­pe­cially to China, where Cal­i­for­nia’s Dun­geness crab is usu­ally a huge mar­ket. Other for­eign mar­kets and sup­ply chains have all but dis­ap­peared as well.

Now, with dine-in restau­rants shut down in Cal­i­for­nia and else­where, the cri­sis looms even larger. About 80% of U.S. con­sump­tion of do­mes­tic seafood takes place at restau­rants — not at home.

“We’re al­ready feel­ing mar­ket im­pacts be­cause of the overnight evap­o­ra­tion of the restau­rant in­dus­try — that and our ex­port mar­ket, which is also gone,” said Noah Op­pen­heim, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Pa­cific Coast Fed­er­a­tion of Fish­er­men’s As­so­ci­a­tions. “Even in times of shel­ter-in-place and coro­n­apoc­a­lypse, we need to re­mind peo­ple that they have a lo­cal, sus­tain­able source of pro­tein right in their back­yard.”

Fish­ing it­self has not been af­fected in Cal­i­for­nia, said Op­pen­heim, who noted that some shel­ter-in-place or­ders in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia have specif­i­cally carved out fish­ing as an es­sen­tial sec­tor. Seafood re­mains a safe op­tion at the gro­cery store and lo­cal mar­kets and for take­out, he said.

Many fish­ing op­er­a­tions have turned to so­cial me­dia, de­liv­ery apps and sell­ing di­rectly to con­sumers from boats at land­ing docks.

They’re spread­ing the word that fish such as hal­ibut, when stored prop­erly in a freezer, can last for months. Salmon sea­son is ramp­ing up as well — the Sacra­mento fall-run king salmon is ex­pected to be abun­dant this year — but many worry whether there will be a mar­ket for this catch.

So how do you know you’re buy­ing do­mes­tic seafood?

“Most su­per­mar­kets now are em­brac­ing best prac­tices like trace­abil­ity and can tell you whether the seafood was farmed or wild, and whether it was do­mes­tic or im­port,” Op­pen­heim said. “So folks should sim­ply ask. If it’s not there on the sign, chances are pretty good that the per­son sell­ing the fish will know the an­swer.”

He also sug­gested look­ing into com­mu­nity fish­ing as­so­ci­a­tions, or CFAs — sim­i­lar to CSAs, the com­mu­nity-sup­ported agri­cul­ture pro­grams that de­liver pro­duce from lo­cal farms.

Fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties have been proud of their work over the decades with sci­en­tists, wildlife of­fi­cials and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups to de­velop rules that bal­ance fish­ing and help pre­serve the ecosys­tem.

“We’ve sac­ri­ficed lots, and we’ve learned a lot over the years that in or­der to en­sure that we have ac­cess to this re­source in per­pe­tu­ity, we need to em­brace sus­tain­abil­ity prac­tices,” Op­pen­heim said. “When you buy an Amer­i­can wild-cap­ture seafood prod­uct, you know it was caught in a man­ner that is pro­tec­tive of habi­tat and good for the en­vi­ron­ment and en­sures that we’ll be able to fish for­ever.”

Eric Ris­berg Associated Press

CRAB POTS sit in wait at Fish­er­man’s Wharf in San Fran­cisco. Ex­ports to China have taken a hit.

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