Wild Steelhead on the Menu?

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Alex Lovett-Woodsum

The latest assault on our fisheries? Seafood Watch recommends eating wild OP steelhead.

In the latest of a series of truly baffling assaults on our country’s precious natural resources, Seafood Watch—a program initiated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to encourage responsible consumer seafood choices—just placed tribally harvested wild Olympic Peninsula steelhead on its list of “good alternative” seafood choices. The decision is being widely condemned by conservation organizations like The Conservation Angler (TCA), an organization working to protect and conserve wild salmon and steelhead across the Pacific Rim, as well as anglers around the country. With current wild steelhead populations representing just 15-20% of recent (1960s) abundance, and OP wild steelhead meeting zero of Seafood Watch’s ten specific criteria for inclusion on the list, the decision has left conservationists and anglers shaking their heads in dismay. The precedent this decision sets is also alarming.

Concerned consumers trust organizations like Seafood Watch to recommend responsible seafood choices based on their supposedly very stringent standards and criteria. In a world where fisheries are under constant threat, people need reliable resources to help them make informed choices. Most want to do the right thing, but sustainable seafood can be a confusing realm to navigate. Seafood Watch’s decision is particularly alarming because so many listen to their advice unquestioningly. And while they claim to base decisions on rigorous criteria and sound science, there is absolutely no legitimate scientific basis for their decision to make OP wild steelhead a “good choice”, and an overwhelming pile of evidence as to why it’s such an appallingly bad idea.

Seafood Watch has seriously undermined their credibility with this decision.

If consumers can’t trust organizations like this to help us make informed decisions about seafood, we are in big trouble. Grocery behemoth Whole Foods Market, for example, bases its substantial seafood purchasing decisions on certification by three groups: Seafood Watch, The Safina Center and The Marine Stewardship Council. Whole Foods’ website says, “No worries in our seafood department.”

Anyone who cares about the health of our fisheries should be loudly expressing their concern to both Seafood Watch and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Hopefully they will do the right thing and swiftly remove wild steelhead from the “good” seafood list.

If recent events have shown us anything, it’s that outdoorsmen coming together around a common goal are a force to be reckoned with.

In Florida, the fight to fix the Everglades has gained momentum over the past year, with over 53,000 signing the Now or Neverglades Declaration and numerous conservation organizations, companies, anglers and guides coming together to put pressure on legislators to fix the Everglades. In the past month, increased pressure has led to bills being introduced in both the House and Senate to expedite the acquisition of land south of Lake Okeechobee to create a reservoir to store, clean and convey water south to the Everglades and Florida Bay. Anglers and captains are rallying in Florida’s capital on April 11th to continue to make their voices heard.

When Montana’s public lands were recently threatened, over a thousand sportsmen and women rallied at the state capital to voice protest. That message was echoed throughout the region when U.S. Rep Jason Chaffetz of Utah withdrew legislation that would have transferred three million acres of land from the federal government to the state. He cited the mass objections from constituents who were concerned about limited access to public fishing and hunting.

In these uncertain times, sportsmen and women need to put aside partisan politics and stand up for their fisheries whenever they come under threat. Complacency risks the future of our precious natural resources.

To read an in-depth analysis of the flawed Seafood Watch certification for OP wild steelhead from TCA President Pete Soverel, click here. 

To let Seafood Watch and the Monterey Bay Aquarium know how you feel about OP steelhead being on the “good alternative” list of seafood choices, contact them directly: Monterey Bay Aquarium or (831) 648-4880, Seafood Watch or send them a message or write them on Facebook: Seafood Watch Facebook or Monterey Bay Aquarium Facebook.  

Alex Woodsum
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “Wild Steelhead on the Menu?

  1. As the Mid-Columbia River Steward District Coordinator for Native Fish Society, I have wrestled with Seafood Watch on this issue. Some upper Columbia basin native steelhead populations are literally circling the drain, yet Seafood Watch insists the fishery is too small to be of concern. The root of the problem is the FDA designation that equates wild steelhead to farmed rainbow trout….

    I am working on an awareness campaign to educate consumers, kitchen managers & chefs. It is unlikely that Seafood Watch will alter their advisory, but if we pool our resources, perhaps a concerted effort will persuade them to reconsider.

  2. I sent an e-mail last week and got this response. Definitely not acceptable:

    Hello Jason,

    Thank you for sharing your concern and feedback.

    Seafood Watch makes every effort to ensure its reports reflect accurate scientific information. To that end, we welcome ongoing contact with tribal representatives, conservation groups and management authorities regarding current conservation efforts, recreational harvest restrictions and other important factors that could necessitate any change to the current rating.

    In fact, this process has already yielded information that came out since the assessment was completed. That new information (low returns in the Hoh River in 2016) may lead to a change in rating for that river.
    The updated recommendations follow. Also, please know that a yellow Good Alternative rating doesn’t mean “sustainable” but, rather, there are issues people should be aware of before deciding to purchase.

    AVOID: Steelhead from the Chehalis River
    GOOD ALTERNATIVE: Steelhead from the Humptulips River, Quillayute River, Queets River and Quinault River.
    UNDER REVIEW: Steelhead from the Hoh River

    Any new data you have is appreciated and can be sent to us at seafoodwatch@mbayaq.org.

    In the meantime, the full scientific reports behind our recommendations are publicly available at our website under the specific rating.


    Peter Adame
    Seafood Watch Engagement Coordinator

    Monterey Bay Aquarium
    886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940
    Our mission is to inspire conservation of the ocean.

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