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Guilt-Free Fish: How to eat your seafood and have it, too.

By Dylan Chalk

Fish are in trouble. Most protein--beef, chicken, soybeans--comes from farms. Most seafood does not. But overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction have taken a severe toll on fish populations. In fact, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nine of the world's major fishing areas--including the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of New England--have either reached or exceeded their natural limits. In other words, we're taking fish out faster than nature can grow them back.

In May 1998, Audubon published a seafood guide showing which species are sustainably harvested and which the thoughtful consumer should avoid. It's easy enough to swear off poster-child species like orange roughy and shark, but how can you tell if that tuna in the window is from a relatively well-managed Pacific fishery or from troubled Atlantic waters? Most fish-store clerks and restaurant waiters have no idea. And what if you're a fisherman? How can you fish sustainably and still compete with longline ships and factory trawlers, with their economies of scale and their bulldozer ways? Two young Internet companies are addressing these questions by selling sustainably harvested seafood on-line.

EcoFish.com sells seven species, from rainbow trout (seasoned, smoked, or plain fillets) to lobster. The owners buy their wares from fisheries and aquaculture farms with sound management, low bycatch, and responsible harvesting practices. Their Oregon dungeness crab, for example, comes from a trap fishery that takes only male crabs, leaving the females to breed. The seafood is shipped frozen, in Igloo coolers. It's not cheap, but EcoFish gives 25 percent of its pretax profits to ocean-conservation foundations around the world. In April 2001, EcoFish was certified as sustainable by the nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council, the first seafood distributor to earn such certification.

Pelicanpackers.com offers gourmet tuna, canned by the fishermen who caught it. The fish come from the Pacific albacore fishery, one of the best managed in the world. All fish are jig-caught on barbless hooks, so any juveniles or animals of other species that are caught by mistake (bycatch) can be thrown back unharmed. The albacore fillets are cooked inside the can to preserve the natural juices of the fish. Though it's expensive--$4.25 for a 7.5-ounce can--the taste is far superior to conventional canned tuna.

The fishing industry has traditionally made up for its scant profit margins with massive--and destructive--volume. Ecofish and Pelicanpackers offer an alternative for both consumers and fishermen. So the next time you're in the mood for seafood, try one of these web sites, and eat sustainably.

Dylan Chalk is a tuna fisherman who lives in Seattle, Washington.

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