Buy Local! This rallying cry has become more and more prominent over the past several years. The popularity of farmers markets, Community-Supported Agriculture and Farm-to-Table restaurants has grown exponentially in recent years. What's not to love? The food is fresher, local economies are supported and the carbon footprint of transporting the products to stores is drastically reduced.
But, how often do we think of "buy local" when we think of seafood?
Similar to other food we feed our families, purchasing local seafood has its benefits. But when we talk about food taken from our waters, there are other considerations as well - primarily dealing with how well wild and farmed fish stocks are managed here in the United States. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, first enacted in 1976, provides the foundation for sustainable fisheries management in US waters.
This law established the science-based, cooperatively-managed system that employs routine stock assessments, catch limits, ecosystem-based management and accountability measures that eliminate overfishing and support sustainable populations.
Sustainable sturgeon nursery in North Carolina, which is producing local caviar!
Although US fisheries and aquaculture are tightly managed, more than 80 percent of the seafood we eat in the United States is imported. Foreign fisheries and aquaculture operations are under varying degrees of control. Many countries have put the financial gain of the fishing and aquaculture industries above the need to sustain healthy ecosystems and populations of fish. Efforts to improve international efforts to improve the management of our aquatic resources have already begun and are vital to supporting global sustainability, but there is still much work to be done.
Buying local seafood isn’t just about supporting U.S. fisheries and local fishermen, especially here in the Mid-Atlantic. This region enjoys the particular pleasure of being able to enjoy diverse and high quality seafood from our ocean, bays and rivers - and more recently from aquaculture facilities. But, even here, our seafood choices are highly affected by the global economy. More often than not, your "Maryland style" crab cake is made with imported crab meat.
As consumers, we should begin asking ourselves how our seafood purchasing decisions can make a difference. Here are some simple steps to get you started:
- Buy Local - Support local fishermen by asking if the seafood you purchase is from local sources. For example, in Maryland, you can identify restaurants using local Maryland blue crab meat by the True Blue certification logo on their menus.
- Support Community-Supported Fisheries - Similar to the agriculture program, CSFs connect local fishermen and consumers, providing a steady source of locally caught or farmed seafood throughout the year.
- Eat What's in Season - Just like vegetables, many seafood choices have a “season.” Purchasing seafood out of season generally means you are not supporting local options.
The health of our local fish is intricately tied to the health of our aquatic ecosystems, which is all connected to the health of the land surrounding these ecosystems. When we better understand - and benefit from - the relationship between healthy waters and safe, plentiful seafood, we think more carefully about things we can do to help protect our waterways. Continued support for individual, community and civic efforts to clean up our waterways and watersheds is good for us and the fish!
Do you have a favorite local seafood recipe(s)? Share them with me in the comments section!