It's an important part of SW Florida culture to eat and enjoy fresh seafood from our local waters, but it's also our responsibility as good stewards of the ocean to make wise choices and avoid eating species that have been overfished. At Sanibel Sea School, when it comes to seafood, the general rules we follow are "eat less, eat local, and eat low on the food chain". Here's a quick list of suggestions if you're in the area and looking for a sustainable meal:
1. Cobia (US Farmed). These fish grow quickly and efficiently, and require less protein in their feed than other farmed species. They are rarely fished commercially, so wild populations remain healthy. Cobia filets are mild and buttery, with a meaty texture - often available at Publix thanks to their new partnership with Open Blue, a Miami-based farming operation. (http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/03/13/open-blue-cobia-penetrates-publix-super-markets/)
2. Florida Oysters. Apalachicola Bay, located in the panhandle, provides 90% of Florida’s oysters that are sustainably grown and hand harvested. The rich Apalachicola estuary is one of the last areas where wild oysters are harvested from small boats. Oysters and other shellfish are usually a great choice, since they are filter feeders that clean the water as they eat.
3. Mahi Mahi (Troll or poll caught). This popular game fish is fast-growing and spawns early in life making it a great alternative to grouper and Chilean sea bass, which are vulnerable to overfishing. Additionally, Mahi Mahi caught using troll or pole fishing methods reduces the chance of by-catch, which keeps our sea turtles and sea birds safe.
4. Tilapia (US Farmed). Tilapia is a fast-growing, easily cultured omnivorous species and is extremely versatile in the culinary world. Sarasota Organic Tilapia Farms and RoyalTila based in Punta Gorda are both committed to producing sustainable, eco-friendly, organically fed fish. These facilities are among many in Southwest Florida that are supplying local tilapia to restaurants and grocery stores.
5. Your Catch. Perhaps the most sustainable way to consume seafood is by catching it yourself – we think it’s the most fun too! Be sure to check your local fishing regulations for size limitations and seasons. Here’s a link to recreational fishing regulations from FWC: http://www.myfwc.com/media/2714988/Coastal-species-quick-chart.pdf