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Know the West

How safe is that fillet?

  Most Americans — even those fanatical about eating only organic foods — assume that eating fish raised in the ocean is a healthy act that does no harm to the environment. Not necessarily. Some seafood varieties are overfished, and some are caught and farmed in ways that damage ocean ecosystems (HCN, 3/17/03: Bracing against the tide). Navigating the glut of information about seafood can be overwhelming for those who simply want a quick prepackaged fillet for dinner. Now, help is on the way.

The Marine Stewardship Council, an international nonprofit with U.S. headquarters in Seattle, Wash., has created a blue-and-white label that designates seafood as sustainably harvested and managed.

“We wanted a positive program that would reward fishermen for responsible management,” says council spokeswoman Karen Tarica. “Our label is a quick and easy way for consumers to know that what they’re eating is a good choice.”

Lacking a label, you can turn to a wallet-sized seafood guide from California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. The guide, which is updated every six months by a team of independent scientists, divides seafood choices into green (Best Choice), yellow (Proceed With Caution) and red (Avoid) columns.

“The pocket guide empowers people to become advocates for sustainable seafood,” says Serena Pring of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “We do their homework for them, so it’s easy for consumers to make responsible choices and affect the oceans in a positive way.”

Contact the Marine Stewardship Council at www.msc.org, or 206/691-0188. To download a Seafood Watch Program guide, go to www.montereybayaquarium.org or call Pring at 831/647-6873.