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The Yellow Conundrum

Making good seafood choices can be frustrating. You want to purchase seafood that was caught without harming the environment. But there is so much information, and different seafood guides do not always agree on whether a fishery is sustainable. Even understanding what “sustainable” means is confusing.

The Safina Center’s seafood program uses a three rank system: green, yellow and red rated fisheries. Sustainable fisheries are not black-and-white. It is, in fact, a very grey industry and is ever-changing.

This is where the color “yellow” comes in. But does yellow equal sustainable? Is it “ok” to buy? Our yellow ranking simply means: some problems exist. It is also important to realize there’s a range; some yellow-rated species are closer to red than to green, and vice versa.

What this boils down to is yellow rated fisheries are not as sustainable as green rated fisheries, but are not as detrimental as red rated. A yellow rating means some problems exist with this species’ status or catch methods, or information is insufficient for evaluating. This is where our detailed assessments may come in handy. Look at the beginning of the assessment to gain some perspective as to why a particular fishery was rated one way or another.

Some yellow rated fisheries have more issues than others. Pacific swordfish caught by drift gillnets off of the California coast incidentally kill some endangered and threatened species. Management measures implemented over the past decade decrease this “bycatch,” but the problem has not been eliminated completely. Incidental kill in this yellow-rated swordfish fishery includes sharks, marine mammals, and sea turtles. Bycatch from other yellow rated fisheries may be better but the fishery might still earn a yellow rating if it needs some improvements to management or gear.

There isn’t one easy criteria for deciding whether a fish is “good” or “bad.” We recommend avoiding red-rated species and favoring green. When considering yellow, you have to determine if you feel comfortable supporting such fisheries. Becoming an informed consumer does take time. So it can help to look at our assessment summaries online prior to making your decisions.

We are able to help narrow the choices for consumers who do not have the time to research each fishery to its fullest. Your choices have power and can make change.

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