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Sep 19, 2005 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Sitting in Martha's Vineyard staring at a sea whose summer blues are gently giving way to autumnal slate grays, the thoughts turn to the next meal. Lobster? Grilled bluefish? Rockfish? Which fish? Because fish it will be.
Americans are now eating more fish than ever -- 16 pounds a year per capita in 2003, an increase on 2002 of 4 percent. And with more and more focus on healthy eating, the figure will only go up.
Which makes for a problem. Because now that people even in states hundreds of miles from the coast have learned to appreciate that fish doesn't just come in circular cans to eat with mayo between slices of bread, fish is running out.
The more we seek out the healthy-food option of fish, the less fish there is to eat.
In the last 50 years stocks of the really large fish, like bluefin tuna, swordfish, blue marlin, cod, skate and flounder have declined, with some species just 10 percent of their original stocks. The decimation began with the onset in the 1950s of the industrialization of fishing. Where longline fishers could once expect to produce a catch of 10 large fish, now if they catch one, they should celebrate.
But though we consider fish the healthiest food choice, they readily absorb the pollutants and toxins that flow into the oceans from land-based industries and common household products like lawn fertilizer.
On Sept. 15 results of a 22-state mercury-testing project were released, showing that store-bought swordfish and tuna contain levels of mercury deemed by the federal government hazardous to health, in particular to the health of children.
Samples tested at the University of North Carolina's Environmental Quality Institute included fish bought at Safeway, Whole Foods and Albertsons stores between July 7 and Aug. 11.
Consumers have a 50-percent chance that the swordfish steak they have bought contains levels of mercury that the Food and Drug Administration considers unsafe, according to the test results.
Concentrations of mercury in 31 fresh or frozen tuna steak samples averaged a level comparable to that in canned albacore tuna, a fish targeted in the 2004 joint advisory from the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency as a fish for limited consumption by children and women of child-bearing age.
"The results," warned Jackie Savitz, director of environmental group Oceana's Seafood Contamination Campaign, "clearly demonstrate the need for signs in our supermarkets to communicate the FDA advice because people are unknowingly purchasing these high mercury fish, and women of childbearing age and children may be eating them in spite of the FDA's warning. Americans have a right to know what's in their food, and posting warning signs in grocery stores where these fish are sold is a simple, common-sense solution that fulfills that right."
Americans should also let industrialized fishing enterprises know their feelings with their pocket books.
If we stop buying fish that may harm us, perhaps the big fishing enterprises will take note and alter their fishing practices, and industries whose pollutants are contaminating our waters may at last have to clean up their act.
Silver hake, or "whiting," is one white fish that seems not to suffer from pollution problems. Fish caught north of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina have recovered from overfishing.
Bake a thick fillet of it Greek style in an ovenproof dish in an oven preheated to 375F with a drizzle of good olive oil, some roughly chopped tomatoes, on a bed of onion slivers that have been softened in oil, the juice of half a lemon, salt, pepper and two or three sprigs of fresh thyme until opaque, about 20 minutes.
Copyright 2005 by United Press International.