7 questions to ask before you eat that shrimp

Oceans produce half the world’s oxygen, create the clouds that bring fresh water and help to regulate our climate. They also provide more than a billion people with their primary source of protein, according to National Geographic.

As technology has advanced, humans have been able to fish farther, deeper and more efficiently in the world’s oceans. And now some scientists believe that if we don’t start asking questions about the seafood on our plates, the ancient and delicate balance of the sea’s biologic system will be changed forever.

In fact, Barbara Block, professor of Marine Sciences Evolutionary, Cellular and Molecular Physiology, at Stanford University, argues that’s already happening.

“At this point, across the planet, large pelagic predators, big fish, big shark, are being removed at a very high rate. So without a better international plan for management, there could be a time when there are parts of the ocean in which the trophic cascade has tipped so far that all you have is jellyfish in the sea.”

Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program agree. They estimate that 85 percent of the world’s fisheries have already been fished to capacity or overfished, and that as much as 90 percent of the large predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, and cod are now gone from the world’s oceans.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, eating seafood sustainably can drastically help us meet our seafood needs without compromising the needs of future generations.

But what does sustainability mean when it comes to the fishing industry and the seafood we consume?

NOAA describes sustainable fishing as seafood caught or farmed responsibly, in a way that considers the long-term health of the environment and the livelihoods of the people that depend upon the environment.

But according to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, fishing practices worldwide are highly unregulated and unsustainable.

Where does this leave consumers? Identifying high quality, sustainable seafood isn’t always easy at your local grocery store or favorite restaurant.

To make things easier, the Environmental Defense Fund recommends asking these questions before ordering:

1. What country is it from?

2. Is the fish wild-caught or farm-raised?

3. If it is farmed, how was it grown? (Was it raised in a polluting open net pen or in a contained tank or pond?)

4. If it is wild, how was it caught? (Were long lines used, or was it caught by pole? Long lines often catch extra unwanted “bycatch.”)

5. Are populations of this fish healthy and abundant? (Small, fast-growing fish can withstand more fishing pressure, while large, slow-growing species are more vulnerable to overfishing.)

6. Are there eco-friendly alternatives?

7. Is this fish really a… red snapper, wild salmon, grouper, etc.? These are prime candidates for fish fraud.

Seafood Watch has also compiled a comprehensive list of its “seafood recommendations” to help consumers make sustainable decisions about the fish they eat.

Watch PBS NewsHour Weekend Saturday for a full report on commercial swordfish fisheries off the Coast of California where activists say fishing practices are harming the delicate eco-system known as the Blue Serengeti.