Amidst news of Colorado wild fires, record droughts, Presidential campaign gaffes, and the Olympics, it would be pretty easy to miss some news headlines about Alaskan salmon. But in case you did – Alaska Governor Sean Parnell (R) is seeking federal disaster aid to assist communities whose livelihoods are heavily impacted by this year’s weak salmon runs. The salmon runs on the Kuskokwin River are among the weakest in state history, and those on the Yuokon were poor enough that the state has actually banned commercial salmon harvesting this year.
The problem isn’t just a hard hit to one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest and most profitable fishing industries. The communities that Governor Parnell is seeking aid for in Alaska actually depend on the salmon for subsistence. Moreover, for the ecologically minded, salmon are a keystone species in the Pacific Northwest, which means that a struggling or declining population of salmon could have a negative impact on the entire ecosystem much larger than the numerical size of their population would suggest.
Nobody is entirely sure the reason for the weak salmon runs – trust me, if I hear anything about an explanation, I’ll let you know. However, it is well known that increases in farmed fishing, environmental pressures, and over-fishing all can have devastating impacts on fish populations of any variety. The decline of world fisheries has been documented for years, with studies reporting in 2006 that overfishing and environmental pressures could lead to the collapse of the majority of marine species within 50 years. Although researches did (generally) include wild caught Alaskan salmon among the healthiest species, the question now is whether weak salmon runs suggest otherwise. That’s why I thought it might be a good time to talk about how to be a little more eco-conscious when eating fish – something I’m definitely going to work on myself.
If you’re concerned about the fish you’re eating – either for health reasons (many fish contain high levels of mercury, heavy metals, and other toxins) or because of sustainability issues – here are some resources to help you make the healthiest and most environmentally friendly choices. Probably my favorite is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide, which you can download off their website. Environmental Defense Fund developed an app that will help you when choosing fish to eat for dinner. You can also check out this slideshow summaries from Self magazine (or, Men’s Health, if you have a distaste for pink yoga ads or prefer your header to be red and manly) which list other resources. Self‘s includes suggestions on how to get certain nutrients found in cold water fish if you’re looking to cut back on your fish consumption overall – something that it might be time to think about, even for a sushi-lover like me.