Recent labeling laws, called COOL (country-of-origin labels), require grocery stores and other seafood outlets to clearly inform shoppers where their fish comes from. China? Thailand? U.S. waters? Wild or farmed? A new generation of savvy seafood shoppers is learning to ask questions about the origins of fish, and to make educated decisions about their purchases.
Along with the usual questions of freshness, preparation, and taste, common consumer concerns include:
- Is the fish from wild waters, or was it farmed or hatchery-raised?
- Was the fish harvested through sustainable fishing practices?
- What kind of mercury and other toxin levels can be expected in the fish?
- What is the total carbon footprint of this purchase?
Unfortunately, several lax elements to the new laws allow for a number of exceptions. Any kind of processing, for example, renders the seafood exempt from the label requirement. While processing can be as complex as cooking, canning, and combining with other meats or additives, the definition extends to include “processes” as simple as, say, shucking an oyster, or sliding a shrimp onto a bamboo skewer.
One way consumers can ensure they know the origins of their fish is to go straight to the source and buy directly from liaisons with processors that package their product directly after it’s caught. This guarantees a clear label with no mysterious additives or processes – just fresh (or fresh-frozen) quality seafood.
Photos by Gianni Cipriano, The New York Times