Good Fish, Bad Fish
With fish consumption exploding around the world, can Hawai‘i lead the way to
December 18 , 2002 Honolulu Weekly
Grilled mahimahi. Seared ‘ahi. Broiled shutome. Do these sound like menu items from
the neighborhood restaurant? Sure, but they’ve also become standard fare in restaurants
as far removed from Honolulu as Los Angeles and Seattle, Chicago and New York.
Hawai‘i’s seafood is now one of its most popular calling cards.
As Hawai‘i’s fish have become famous for their exquisite taste, so have the health
benefits of eating fish been seized by the nation’s fixation on wellness. Research has
shown that fish provides protection against cardiovascular disease, spurring the health-
conscious to opt for its tender flesh instead of red meat. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in
therapeutic doses in fatty fish such as ‘ahi, aku and salmon, are credited for reducing
inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis, inhibiting tumor growth, ameliorating
arrhythmia and lessening the risks of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids also contribute to
brain and nerve tissue development.
So, on top of everything else, fish is brain food, just like Mom said. Indeed, living in
Hawai‘i, where the quality and the variety of seafoods — both local and imported — are
superb, eating fish is a very smart thing to do.
But this increase in popularity has an effect, as fish and shellfish are now the only
wildlife — the only major food source — that is still commercially hunted. To remain
sustainable, this important bounty from the sea relies on the fragile balance of nature and
the responsible behavior of human beings. And herein lies the problem.
The problem with seafood
The United Nations estimates that within the next 10 years the demand for fish
worldwide will increase nearly 40 percent. The United States ranks third, behind Japan
and China, in total annual seafood consumed. This tremendous demand fuels the
industrial-scale hunting of marine fish, some species of which are dwindling to their
lowest population levels in history.
The methods by which seafood is caught are often devastating to other animals that
aren’t targeted. Shrimp trawlers are especially guilty of wasting unwanted marine life:
For every pound of shrimp caught, 4-10 pounds of bycatch are discarded worldwide.
Longlining indiscriminately hooks seabirds, turtles and juvenile fish as well as the
targeted fish. Even though Hawai‘i’s longlining industry has taken strong action to
reduce the bycatch by adjusting the depths of the hooks, many other nations that longline,
have no such regulations in place.
It is easy to assume that the fish and shellfish seen in abundance at the markets have
flourishing populations — and that they’ve been caught using environmentally
sustainable methods. This, unfortunately, isn’t always the case.