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Every time I rig up a fishing pole or stare into the fish counter at the supermarket, the same question weighs on my mind: Is eating seafood the right thing to do? On the one hand, I feel that fish and fishing are too much a part of my identity to give up entirely. I grew up a monomaniacal fisherman, catching and eating seafood at every opportunity, back when American fish were readily available and often abundant. On the other hand, the oceans are in trouble. Humanity now catches around 90 million tons of seafood annually—a quarter more than what we caught back when I first wet a line in the early 1970s, and more than four times as much as what we caught when my father first went fishing in the 1930s.
Also troubling is that Americans now import in excess of three quarters of our seafood from abroad, much of it caught or farmed in dubious ways. Which is why I buy American. Over the past two decades, America’s fishing policies have improved tremendously, mostly because of the 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act. That legislation required regulators to define overfishing, identify fish that were in trouble and set target goals for rebuilding stocks. Today, 32 previously threatened fish and shellfish populations are at much-improved levels, meaning there are a lot more guilt-free (or at least guilt-light) domestic choices at the fish counter.
Pacific Spot Prawn
Though many Americans are oblivious to its existence, there is a crustacean that is abundant, delicious and perhaps more sustainable than any on earth: the Pacific spot prawn, a species of large shrimp that lives in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Alaska. Far more flavorful than the farmed shrimp out of Asia, the spot prawn also has a unique ecological benefit. Most wild shrimp are caught by trawlers, which accidentally kill millions of pounds of unwanted species (a.k.a. bycatch) every year; spot prawns, however, are caught in lobster-pot-like traps that kill very little bycatch.