Three Simple Rules for Eating Seafood

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by Paul Greenberg

June 13, 2015

NEARLY a decade ago, the writer Michael Pollan advised: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Ever since, a certain kind of progressive supermarket aisle has emerged: “Real” foods, calorie-limited portions and vegetarianism (or at least Meatless Mondays) have become culinary aspirations for millennials and boomers alike.

Mr. Pollan’s advice is sound. But what about the 71 percent of the Earth’s surface that provides humans with 350 billion pounds of food every year? How do you make rules for our oceans and freshwater ecosystems, whose vast production is, even in this increasingly mechanized world, still more than half wild?

Since I first read Mr. Pollan’s haiku-like dictum, I have been trying to be like Mike — i.e., to work out a seafood three-liner that would be as concise, elegant and free from exceptions as his. I can’t say that I have been entirely successful. No sooner do I present a draft idea at a local seafood forum than I get shouted down by a New England dragger captain whose cod doesn’t fill the bill.

But rules are useful no matter the exceptions. And since World Oceans Day was this month, I thought I would offer up my own, admittedly clunky, variation:

Eat American seafood.

A much greater variety than we currently do.

Mostly farmed filter feeders.

Some explanations are in order.


Yet in spite of these better ways of doing business with the ocean, up to 90 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported, much of it from Asia, where regulation is markedly poorer than in the United States. According to a recent study published in the journal Marine Policy, as much as 32 percent of the wild fish we import may come to us via illegal or unreported fishing.


And other efficient biological filters also exist. Ocean farmers are finding that edible kelp grows miraculously fast, can be high in omega-3s and extracts huge amounts of excess nutrients from the water column. Grown together with mussels and other bivalves, kelp represents a real bright spot for making a better American seafood supply.