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Everyday Environmentalist

Eat Seafood Like a Caveman

Most native shellfish populations around the world have been driven to functional extinction.

"Many native shellfish populations and their habitats have been degraded and can no longer do the important things they are great at."

Nina Hadley, program coordinator for the Conservancy's Global Marine Team

By Nina Hadley

Paleoanthropologists recently reported the first reliably dated evidence of early humans using marine resources — mussels, to be precise, consumed by coastal cave dwellers in South Africa about 165,000 years ago.

The palentologists didn't say whether the mussels were cooked in a simmer sauce of white wine and garlic — but they did report that the diners painted the cave walls red. Good times!

People have been dining on bivalves pretty much since then — so maybe it’s not so surprising that most native shellfish populations around the world have been driven to functional extinction by commercial exploitation, disease and coastal development. 

Put simply, many native shellfish populations and their habitats have been degraded and can no longer do the important things they are great at — like providing habitat for small fish and filtering pollution, keeping our nearshore waters clean.

Native shellfish reefs are one of the most productive yet impacted ecosystems on Earth, and the Conservancy is working hard to protect and restore these valuable habitats. But you can do something too — by following a simple pocket guide to eating the right shellfish.

Such guides from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the Blue Ocean Institute’s Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood have made eating sustainably harvested, shellfish (and seafood) something easy for anyone to do, anytime. You can even access Seafood Watch on your cellphone.

It's so easy — and I bet you've been waiting for me to say this — that a caveman could do it.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy.

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