Peer Review: Green Catch

Green Catch is a program designed to educate middle schoolers about sustainable seafood, and is now also a Cornell club...

(Via Cornell Daily Sun)
(Via Cornell Daily Sun)

By Jacqueline Carozza via the Cornell Daily Sun, 8/28/13

Who likes sushi? How about ice cream or cookies? Who uses shampoo? According to Kat Leigh ’15, “all of these products come from the ocean. Whether you eat seafood or not, this affects you.”

Concerned with the way the world’s oceans are being harvested for seafood, Leigh founded Green Catch: Sustaining Blue by Catching Green. Green Catch is a program designed to educate middle schoolers about sustainable seafood, and is now also a Cornell club.

The educational materials Leigh compiled for Green Catch are approved by Seafood Watch, one of the leading organizations promoting sustainable seafood.

Leigh emphasizes education because sustainable seafood is not something with which many people are familiar.

“I say that sustainable seafood is seafood that’s caught in an environmentally and economically friendly way – we’re sourcing the oceans in a way that can be sustained for years to come,” she said.

What Is Sustainable?

When it comes down to which fish are considered sustainable and which fillets do not make the cut, Leigh said the first distinction is whether the seafood comes from wild fisheries or if it comes from fish farms, also known as aquaculture.

Overfishing wild populations is a huge problem, according to Leigh. The demographics of seafood stock, including gender ratio, age ratio and life history cycle, must be carefully considered in order to determine the appropriate catch.

Wild fishing practices also range in their levels of sustainability. One of the most destructive fishing methods includes bottom trawling, which involves dragging a huge weighted net across the seafloor that picks up anything and everything, even if it cannot be used by the fishermen.

“Bottom trawling is about the same as if your teacher assigned you to collect leaves for your science project, and instead of picking up a few leaves, you cut down a bunch of trees, picked off the leaves you needed and then threw the rest back,” she said.

Sustainable methods of fishing wild seafood include traditional hook and line, netting, and bottom trawling’s less destructive counterpart – mid-water trawling – which does not disturb the seafloor.

When it comes to evaluating the sustainability of fish from aquaculture, Leigh asks two questions.

“First, is it a carnivore? If so, it can’t be sustainable,” she said.

According to Leigh, the amount of food that a farmed carnivorous fish supplies is outweighed by the amount of food needed to raise the fish itself.

This is only a problem in aquaculture because “nature is much better at reusing and recycling nutrients,” Leigh said.

Examples of herbivorous fish that can be sustainably raised include tilapia, catfish and shellfish. Farmed salmon and tuna are carnivorous, and therefore, according to Leigh, are not sustainable.

The second question is one of origin – is the seafood farmed in the U.S.? According to Leigh, the U.S. has a number of stringent regulations that act to control problems such as disease, overuse of antibiotics, and lack of water filtration in aquaculture systems, making US-farmed and non-carnivorous seafood a good bet for sustainability and health eating.

Beyond the actual harvesting of seafood, the second piece of Leigh’s definition of sustainable seafood is that it must be economically viable.

According to Leigh, the market system of supply and demand has not been accounting for the biological needs of the ocean.

“Supply and demand is based on substitutes, but there are no substitutes for resources and ecosystems,” she said. “Those can’t be replaced, so we run into problems when we start trying to make trades with our resources.”

One of the policies that has been implemented to help solve this problem is the individual fishing quota.

Under this system, the government sets each fisherman an allowable catch, a share which can be traded and sold in the market system. The quota system allows for fishermen to have an investment in the fishery. The quotas increase the security and stability of the fishery and decrease the incentive to overfish.

“It’s a perfect example of using market incentives to monitor a natural system,” Leigh said.

Better Ways to Fish

Part of Green Catch’s message is that sustainable seafood has broader implications than the environmental and economic nuts and bolts.

“That’s one of the big reasons why I’m so passionate about sustainable seafood – this concept transcends every area of focus. Whether you’re interested in health, science, policy, economics – sustainable seafood can fit somewhere,” Leigh said.

Leigh sees the future of providing sustainable seafood to the population as a challenge that will need to draw on old fishing methods while infusing new ones in order to meet current demands.

“You can use hook and line fishing, combined with really accurate sonar tracking to localize fish, while also using technologically advanced methods to survey and monitor that fish,” she said. “The whole idea of sustainability is not to no longer be able to do things, it’s to make things work. It’s not about banning things or telling people they can’t do what they enjoy.”

One example of a rebirth of old traditions coupled with new implementation mechanisms is the re-emergence of raising carp and other fish in rice paddies, a combination that is mutually beneficial to both the rice and the fish.

Eating Sustainable Seafood

What does this mean for the average seafood consumer? Most restaurants cannot determine the source of their seafood, and seafood is often even mislabeled as to what species it is, according to Leigh. Much of Leigh’s efforts involve bridging the huge accountability gap she sees between the production and sale of seafood.

Leigh suggests that consumers shopping for weekly groceries consult the smartphone app or pocket guides printed by Seafood Watch to identify sustainable purchases. Also keep an eye out for fish stamped with the blue Marine Stewardship Council ecolabel, which guarantees that the product was sourced sustainably.

Seafood at Cornell

Through the Green Catch club at Cornell, Leigh trains members of the community to teach the Green Catch curriculum at local middle schools. Leigh also works with Cornell Dining and the Statler Hotel to promote sustainable seafood on campus. Currently, Cornell has received the Marine Stewardship Council custodial certification for Keeton House and Robert Purcell Community Center, which allows them to indicate seafood dishes that contain MSC-certified sustainable products.

“The MSC certification means that you can trace the seafood from net to plate,” Leigh said. “We have a plan to slowly increase the percentage of sustainable seafood served on campus, but of course, student and faculty pressure can help accelerate the process.”

During Orientation Week, Leigh organized a series of lectures on the multiple facets of sustainable seafood. The last event, “Inside the Glass: A Night of Sustainable Sushi,” will be held at 5 p.m. on Aug. 30 at the Museum of the Earth’s new aquaria exhibits. A shuttle will leave from Day Hall at 4:30pm.

Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.