Seafood for thought Endangered fare: Bay species strong, but industrial fishing methods imperil other fish.


A LIST OF popular seafood compiled in the latest issue of Audubon magazine contains a surprise for the Chesapeake region. The two edible varieties in least danger of overfishing and decline, according to the nature magazine's report, are rockfish and crabs. Bluefish, another local staple, is close behind them.

Since Maryland clamped down on catching rock and crab in the past decade, those species might still be considered under threat. Indeed, enforcement of catch limits on both species continues.

Apparently, the strong status of the bay species as edible fare comes from these protective restrictions. Another reason: Fish farms supply significant amounts of rockfish for sale.

ZTC That's good news for the bay. But it's true that fewer Americans regularly eat those fish, so consumer demand is not high. And if readers of the magazine switch their gustatory attentions to these less-threatened species, their natural populations could face renewed serious fishing pressures.

The "state of the fish" report lists two very popular seafood items near the top of the problem column: shrimp and orange roughy. Cod and haddock are right up there, too. Tuna and salmon rank somewhere in the middle.

Swordfish tops the list, overfished and without management measures. The ocean species was off the menu in the 1970s because of fear that swordfish accumulate poisonous mercury in their flesh, creating a health hazard for humans. Since that risk has diminished, consumer demand for this "steak of the sea" has soared.

Perhaps the greatest threat to sustained world fisheries is the method of catch. Gill nets and longlines (with hundreds of hooks, stretching 40 miles long) capture too many unwanted sea creatures, or "bycatch." About a quarter of the creatures caught in these nets are thrown away, usually dead, the magazine says.

Hundreds of restaurants are not serving swordfish because of these concerns. Consumers would also do well to think about the relative endangerment of species when they troll fish store counters.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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