Countdown to Earth Day

April 16, 2004

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“The sea will grant each man new hope, and sleep will bring dreams of home.”

- Christopher Columbus

In 1992, the Canadian government closed fishing for Atlantic cod off of Newfoundland, and more than 50,000 people lost jobs. Several problems contributed to the decline in Atlantic cod: heavy fishing pressure, changes in water temperature, and decline in the cod's prey, a fish called capelin. Even the richest fishing grounds can run out of fish. Cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder were once common catches in the waters above Georges Bank, a vast plateau off New England and Nova Scotia. Now, after three decades of heavy fishing, ineffective management, and environmental changes, nets are full of less valuable skates and spiny dogfish, a small bottom- dwelling shark.

What’s happening in the North Atlantic is happening the world over. Commercial fishing peaked in the 1980s and has been in a steady decline ever since. From a commercial standpoint, once abundant, highly-valued species are now virtually extinct. In addition to over fishing, climate change, pollution, and human destruction of coastal habitats have contributed to major loss of fish populations. This in turn has affected the whole food chain.

Bad fishing practices and poor regulation have been compounded by a lack of basic knowledge of ocean ecosystems. Even our attempts to change fishing practices have sometimes made the problem worse. Shrimp and Atlantic Salmon are raised commercially in “fish farms”; however, these are predatory species and, when released into the sea, they further diminish the populations we are trying to save. In addition, the wastes from aquiculture operations are major polluters of coastal areas, causing algal blooms and hypoxic zones.

You can learn more about the problem and possible approaches to sustainable fishing at:

More immediately, here’s a guide for choosing seafood that will help keep you from being part of the problem:

Abundant, well-managed

Some concerns

Major Problems

Farmed mussels and clams

Tilapia, U.S. farmed

Atlantic cod

Alaska Salmon

Yellowfin, bigeye, albacore tuna, pole/troll caught


Mahimahi, troll caught




Striped bass

Atlantic flounders and sole

Alaska halibut

Mahimahi, longline caught


Dungeness crab

Pacific cod



Pacific flounders and sole

Farmed salmon (incl. Atlantic)


Rainbow trout

Orange roughy


American (Maine) lobster



Squid (calamari)

Chilean sea bass (toothfish)


Ahi tuna (yellowfin and bigeye tuna steak)

Atlantic halibut


Canned tuna





Become more informed about the fish you eat at the Seafood Choices Alliance:

Print your own Seafood Wallet Card from the Audubon Society at:

Ask your favorite restaurant to become ocean-friendly and present them with a copy of the Business Guide to Sustainable Seafood from the Environmental Defense Fund: