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Conscious cuisine: How to choose sustainable seafood

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Seafood is big business in Florida. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, seafood production has an annual economic impact of more than $400 million.

So it’s in our best interest to ensure that Florida seafood is sustainable.

“The definition is generally seafood that is harvested in a way that will promote the conservation and continued sustainable production of that species,” says Angela Collins, Florida Sea Grant Agent with the University of Florida IFAS Extension. “So they’re managed in a way that can be regulated, and they’re harvested in a way that is not damaging to the environment or to that species’ ability to continue to reproduce into the future and continue to provide us with a good protein source.”

How can you be sure your seafood is sustainable? It’s complicated.

Sustainability depends on many factors including the species, location, time of year, how the organism is harvested and how the harvest is regulated. A species that is considered sustainable may become unsustainable over time, or vice versa.

Like we said: It’s complicated.

But Collins offers these general guidelines:

  • Buy local. You’ll support your local fishing industry and create a smaller carbon footprint because the seafood won’t have to be transported as far. Plus, it will be fresher and likely taste better.
  • Buy American. Even if you’re buying seafood from outside of Florida, select seafood from within the U.S. when possible. At supermarkets, look for the country of origin label on the package. “In the United States, our seafood is highly regulated and well managed,” Collins says. These regulations help to prevent overharvesting of vulnerable fish.
  • Think outside the box. “There are so many more species that are aquacultured besides salmon,” Collins says. “People always think about salmon, but there are other farmed fishes that are very valuable to our economy and are produced in a sustainable way.” Her top picks include aquacultured clams and oysters, mullet and mahi, which reproduces quickly.
  • Avoid big predators. These include shark, swordfish, marlin and other animals that are high on the food chain.
  • Be an advocate. At your favorite seafood counter or restaurant, ask about the seafood’s origins. If enough people request more sustainable options, they may become available.

Helpful resources:

Labels to look for:

In a conversation with The Zest Podcast, Collins explains why there are no hard-and-fast rules for determining which seafood is sustainable. She also offers advice for fishermen and women, provides suggestions for cooking so-called trash fish and reminisces about growing up around the fishing communities of Manatee County. For additional information, read Collins’s blog post about seafood sustainability.

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Dalia Colon