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By Keith Gotcliffe and Lloyd Ellman

Like many natural resources, the world’s fish populations are declining under pressure from unrestrained harvesting, mismanagement, and environmentally destructive practices. Slow Food believes we all have the power to change the course by making informed, responsible decisions. Meet Slow Fish, a solution to a broken system and a celebration of sustainable fishing and delicious, renewable seafood.

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The State of the Ocean

In the past 30 years, global fish consumption has doubled and wild fish populations simply can’t keep up.

Industrialized fishing has the capacity and technology to permanently damage ecosystems by removing fish at an alarming rate. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 80% of fish stocks are being depleted at or above their capacity, and the problem is only growing. In early April, California began research into declining sardine catches. The state may shut down sardine fishing entirely.

The problem of overfishing is compounded by the earth’s changing climate. Warmer temperatures and acidified water have devastating impacts on coral reef systems, home to much of the ocean’s biodiversity.

Illegal fishing, a foreign concept to most Americans, has become increasingly common as governmental regulations seek to limit catches to protect fish populations. In March, the Obama administration introduced a plan to crack down on illegal harvesting in the United States, a black market estimated to be worth at least $20 billion.

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Which Fish?

The state of the seas is not hopeless, and you can help. Slow Food recommends seeking out fresh fish from local purveyors that hasn’t been frozen and shipped across the world. Consider eating a variety of species, not just the salmon and tuna endemic to supermarkets around the country.

Smaller forage fish, like anchovies, recover more quickly and typically consume fewer raw materials to reach maturity than top-level predators. Plus, they’re delicious.

To help sort through the bewildering array of species available to consumers, a number of guides are available. Users can search by species and receive recommendations about the sustainability and health risks of their choices. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and National Geographic both offer comprehensive guides.

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Aquaculture is the farming of fish, shellfish and plants in water environments. Ocean and freshwater seafood can be raised in permeable enclosures or contained tanks. In response to overfishing and increased demand for seafood, aquaculture has emerged as an important source of seafood. Today 73% of Tilapia is sourced from farms.

If managed responsibly, aquaculture has the potential to be a solution to global demand for seafood – governments and conservation organizations are partnering with industry to develop and implement standards that protect ecosystems, consumers and farmers.

But we’re not quite there yet. Although it’s presented as a sustainable alternative to wild-caught fish, aquaculture is criticized for compromising local ecosystems and consuming a great deal of resources. Its use of antibiotics, chemicals and genetically-modified fish have raised concerns about public health. Slow Food opposes the current system.

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Slow Fish in the US

Fishing is a $30 billion industry in the United States. From Alaska to Santa Barbara to Cape Cod and beyond, American fisheries produce a staggering quantity and array of products. These resources need responsible management.

Congress is currently considering re-authorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the main regulatory mechanism for our country’s fishing industry. It seeks to establish an optimal catch size that will promote local economies in coastal areas while also protecting the long-term health of fish populations.

Slow Food USA is pushing for a new Magnuson-Stevens Act. We’re committed to the future of American seafood, a future that’s healthy, delicious, and sustainable for fish and fisherman.

Read our op-ed and join the conversation here.