Below are some of the more commonly used words and phrases in the Smart Seafood Guide.
aquaculture: Also known as fish farming, aquaculture is the growing of fish in captivity for various uses, including human consumption. Just like we grow vegetables and animals on farms, fish farming is practiced worldwide and is becoming a regular activity in the United States. There are several forms of aquaculture and all are not equal. Generally, open-water aquaculture of finfish can be harmful to the environment, coastal communities and consumers. Some cultures of shellfish and emerging land-based closed-loop systems techniques (termed “recirculating aquaculture” or, when combined with growing vegetables, “aquaponics”) can be better alternatives for growing fish.
bycatch: Fish or other wildlife caught accidentally during fishing. This can include fish that were not targeted for catching, or fish that are illegal to catch for various reasons. Bycatch may also include other types of marine wildlife, like turtles, marine mammals or birds.
diver-caught: A means of capturing fish or collecting shellfish in which a human goes under the water to directly catch the targeted animal, rather than using other fishing methods. Shellfish, like scallops or abalone, can be caught in this manner.
dredge nets / dredging: A catch method in which fishing gear made of nets, and possibly metal or wooden frames, are dragged along the seafloor to catch shellfish. The dredge scrapes along the ocean bottom, scooping up whatever gets in its path.
finfish: Exactly what it sounds like: fish with fins, as opposed to other types of seafood, like clams or shrimp.
fishmeal: Ground-up fish that is processed and fed to carnivorous fish (fish that eat other animals, like other fish), for example, farmed salmon. Producing vast quantities of fishmeal can cause imbalance in the ocean ecosystem because small fishes make up the base of the food chain and are a primary food source for many different creatures in the ocean.
flatfish: Fish that are flat, such as flounder and halibut. They live on the ocean seafloor for most of their life. Many flatfish are caught using trawl gear.
handline: A catch method that does not involve a fishing pole, but usually just a line with a hook that is pulled in by hand. See “hook-and-line” below for more information.
hook-and-line (or vertical line gear): A catch method in which some form of a hook and line are used to catch fish. There are a number of fishing gear types that include a hook and a line, such as the most familiar rod and reel (a fishing pole), a handline (see above), and bandit gear (a mechanized rod and reel where the line is brought up using electric rather than human power). These are all usually constantly tended gear — meaning that someone is always monitoring and controlling it.
inputs: The things that are “put in” to farmed fish, including food, chemicals, hormones and/or antibiotics.
longline: A catch method in which long fishing lines are fed into the water from a spool on a boat. Longlines may have anywhere from hundreds to thousands of hooks attached to lines hanging from the main line. Longlines can operate just below the surface, in mid-water depths, or just above the ocean floor. Lines can be anywhere from several hundred yards long to more than a mile long and may be left to “soak” in the water for short or long periods of time to catch fish.
mercury: Mercury is a highly toxic element that is found both naturally and as an introduced contaminant in the environment. Methylmercury is the most toxic form. People are most often exposed to methylmercury by eating contaminated seafood. Mercury concentrates in the muscle tissue of fish and cannot be filleted or cooked out. Mercury can accumulate in humans and cause serious health problems. It may affect the immune system, alter genetic systems and damage the nervous system, including coordination and the senses of touch, taste and sight.
net-caught: A catch method that captures fish in a net. Examples of net gear include gill-nets, which hang down from the surface of the water to catch finfish by entangling their gills, and purse seines, which encircle fish in a net that closes like a purse around them.
overfished: A classification used to indicate that a particular fish population is depleted and does not have enough reproducing individuals to sustain itself over time. It is possible for a species to be “overfished” without “overfishing” actively occurring in the present.
overfishing: A term used to indicate that too many people or boats are targeting a type of fish at a level that may deplete the population. Overfishing over time can result in a species becoming “overfished” — see above.
PCBs: A general name for a large group of industrial chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls. PCBs do not occur naturally in the environment. They have been released through leaks and fires in electrical equipment, past disposal in dumps, accidents in transport, and leakage from hazardous waste sites. PCBs have also spread due to their use as plasticizers, their presence in inks and dyes, and as ingredients in pesticides, adhesives, protective wood coatings and carbonless copy paper. Excessive exposure to PCBs may cause a variety of health problems. For people that do not work in an environment containing PCBs, eating contaminated fish is a common way of becoming exposed to them. PCBs also bioaccumulate — they build up in animal tissue, making it hard to rid oneself of the chemicals once ingested. PCBs are stored in fat, both in fish and humans. Removing fat from consumable fish can help reduce exposure to PCBs.
pot caught or trap caught: A catch method in which certain fish or crustaceans (including lobster, crabs and shrimps) are trapped within an enclosing device (typically produced out of nets, slats or tubing) set on the ocean seafloor. These are often linked to buoys that float on the surface to aid in locating the pots or traps. These devices typically have a number of different escape routes for unintentionally trapped species to escape — for example, female crabs during the mating season, or undersized fish. However, if a pot or trap is lost, it may continue to catch fish for some time. This is known as “ghost fishing” and may be limited if at least some portion of the pot or trap is designed to biodegrade over time.
sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP): A chemical that is sometimes added to flaky fish, shrimp or scallops to smooth the texture and improve the exterior appearance of the product. It can be deceptive to consumers when used in excess because it results in higher water weight of seafood by volume and can falsely change the appearance of a fish to look fresher than it might actually be. It also may be harmful to consumer health.
speargun: A type of fishing gear. A hand-held (and often mechanical) device used by divers to shoot a spear at a fish.
trolling: A catch method in which hook-and-line gear is pulled through the water to catch fish. Often boats have pole holders and the gear is mounted to the boat. The boat then moves slowly through the water.
trawl: A catch method consisting of net equipment that is pulled by a boat through water at a particular range in the water column and scoops up fish as the boat moves forward. There are many different types of trawl gear. Trawls operate at depths ranging from near the surface to just above the seafloor.