Today the “watchdogs of seafood” at Seafood Watch have released their newest recommendations, and they discourage you from getting crabs from China—and don’t eat them either. They stamped the red Avoid sticker on both blue and red swimmer crabs from China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, or Vietnam.
What’s wrong with them? Besides coming from the other side of the world and having a huge transportation footprint, they are likely harvested by bottom trawling, a method similar to clear-cutting a forest. Everything gets destroyed. Plus, most of the world’s endangered crabs are from Asia, so in general crabs are more troubled there than elsewhere.
Instead, eat clams from anywhere in the world: they have been upgraded to green light status of Best Choice.
But what about my lovely blue crabs from the Gulf of Mexico? Those are a completely different species, Callinectes sapidus, and they earn the yellow recommendation of Good Alternative, although the blue crabs from Chesapeake Bay rank as a Best Choice. Depending on where you live, you can eat a little or a lot. Crab-heads can get the full scoop from an in-depth 2012 Seafood Watch report. Seafood Watch is owned and operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation.
The question gets complicated when you order a crab cake. Was it made from Chesapeake Bay or Chinese crabs? A good restaurant will tell you, as will a good grocery store. Conscientious consumers find out.
The best option in all cases is to catch the crabs yourself—the aquatic variety, please. The second best option is to follow the logic of the farmer’s market and find a “fisher’s market” that offers locally caught crabs. These fishers must follow the local regulations; for example, in Florida, blue crab females with eggs cannot be harvested.
In other changes to Seafood Watch’s list, they are feeling good about North America’s Pacific sardines. For squid, they have followed the crab’s example: avoid squid from Asia, and choose American varieties.
On Seafood Watch, every item from China is categorized as Avoid except one: tilapia. As the world’s largest producer of tilapia, China earns a yellow Good Alternative, whereas the U.S. version is green-lighted as a Best Choice.
China is not the only bad guy when it comes to unsustainable seafood, but they are the biggest player, especially in terms of aquaculture or farm-raised seafood. Our stores are stocked with their products, but none of them are Best Choices. Read your labels, because you can do better and feel better than simply buying the easiest and cheapest product. Not only do you get what you pay for, you pay for where you get it from.