New list tells you what Great Lakes fish to buy to help the environment
By Jeff Kart
The Bay City Times (MI)
Published March 26, 2008
You're at the grocery store or restaurant, and trying to choose what kind of fish to eat. But which fish are the best fish when it comes to sustainability?
For the first time, the answers to questions about Great Lakes fish are contained in a Right Bite card put out by the Shedd Aquarium of Chicago.
For about 10 years, Shedd officials have focused on informing people about seafood, with wallet-sized Right Bite cards that arrange species into categories of Best, Good and Avoid.
This year, the cards for the first time also contain information about Great Lakes fish.
Some are doing well when it comes to trapping methods and population management, like yellow perch from Lake Erie and most whitefish, researchers say.
Other fish, like lake trout from Lakes Huron and Michigan, shouldn't be eaten due to a loss of habitat, overfishing and harm by invasive sea lamprey, the cards advise.
"We just want to raise awareness," said Michelle Jost, Shedd's conservation programs manager. "Eating fish is good for you. Eating the right fish is good for the environment."
The cards summarize peer-reviewed research done by Carla Ng, a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. The research was paid for by Shedd Aquarium, a nonprofit, with support from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.
The cards are color-coded like a traffic light.
"They're designed so people don't have to remember this stuff," Jost said, referring to the research, which clocks in at 230 pages.
"They can just pull the card out at a grocery store or restaurant and help guide their decisions ... We're trying to shift interest and shift the market toward more sustainable choices."
By the way, pollock, found in fish sticks at the grocery store and McDonald's Filet-O-Fish, is in the "Best Choices" category, Jost said.
The Right Bite card is the result of a partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California and a Great Lakes stakeholders group that included representatives from state, federal, tribal and Canadian agencies, along with conservation and environmental groups.
Mark Ebener is fisheries assessment biologist for the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority in Sault Ste. Marie, known as CORA, a Native American version of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Ebener was part of the stakeholders group and reviewed Ng's research.
He vouches for her report, but has problems with how the card summarizes the findings.
The card puts whitefish caught with gillnets in a lower category, under Good Choices, than whitefish caught with trap nets, highlighted under Best Choices. The two nets use different methods to harvest fish, and gillnets have more problems with accidental catch and high mortality.
Ebener also doesn't like to see asterisks next to both types of lake whitefish, which advise people to limit their consumption due to concerns about mercury and other contaminants.
"That's totally out of line," Ebener said of gillnetted whitefish.
"They're questioning our management. And you might as well stab us in the heart with that little red asterisk for the contaminants."
He said his organization works with state and federal agencies on management practices, and only a small number of tribal anglers still use gillnets.
CORA also monitors whitefish in the upper Great Lakes and Ebener said contaminant levels have been declining for years.
He said the Right Bite card still has value, but consumers should educate themselves further, and seek out Ng's report, available at the Shedd Web site, if they really want to make the best choices.
"Don't crumple it up," he said of the card, "just understand that they have an agenda and what's why the species are listed in the order they are."
Jost said Shedd's only agenda is educating consumers.
The organization typically gives out 150,000 Right Bite cards a year at festivals and other events. The numbers are expected to increase this year with the inclusion of Great Lakes fish.
Shedd won a leadership award from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration for its program in 2007.
"We're not taking a side," Jost said. "If there's any side that we're on, it's for the health of the environment."