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The Bonaire Sustainable Seafood Guide: Eating Here Responsibly

The Bonaire Sustainable Seafood Guide: Eating Responsibly While on Bonaire

General Information About Eating Responsibly

Improved technology over the last 50 years has allowed the fishing industry to fish deeper and more efficiently. In many cases, this has resulted in a drastic decline in fish, which impacts the food supply, ocean ecosystems, and marine economies. More than 75% of the world’s fisheries are either fully fished or overfished, and as much as 90% of the large predatory fishes, including sharks, swordfish, and cod, have been removed from the oceans, according to scientists.

One of the ways to help slow and reverse this trend is by creating and following a sustainable seafood guide. A sustainable seafood guide is meant to maintain or increase long-term production without negatively impacting ecosystems. Important factors in determining seafood sustainability include fishing pressure on the species, status of the species population, impact of fishing on habitat and ecosystems, and fishery management policies.

It is helpful to understand why a certain fish should not be eaten–several important factors include farmed fish coming from facilities that do not practice sustainable healthy guidelines and by-catch (the killing of non-desirable species while collecting desirable species) in wild-caught seafood.

Farmed seafood, also known as aquaculture, accounts for half of the fish eaten today, and this number is growing. Farmed seafood is sustainable when the environment is taken into consideration, and good practices are observed. There are several key issues about farmed fish of which to be aware, including pollution and disease, habitat damage, escapes, wild fish, and management.

Pollution and Disease

Open-net pens where fish are stored result in the production of tons of feces. The waste is then combined with food pellets to pollute the local environment, including the water, and hurting wildlife and plants in the sea. Furthermore, parasites and diseases grow in the pens and may transfer to wild fish. Pesticides that are used to purify the water may also be spread to the water, impacting the environment and wild fish.

Onshore farms, also known as closed farms, are trying to manage these problems. Wastewater can be filtered, and solid wastes can be composted. Furthermore, these farms can be constructed away from wild fish populations to eliminate the transfer of parasites, disease, and pollution.

Habitat Damage

Many open-net pens are located at the edge of the water, especially with coastal net cages and shrimp farming. Farmers in many tropical regions have removed valuable mangrove trees, which support and nurture juvenile fish and wildlife and also protect the coastline from waves to replace them with fish farms. The shrimp is exported to the US, Europe, and Japan. The farms are heavily fished for many years, destroying and polluting the local environment, and then closed when they become unproductive. The farmers then move on to take down more mangroves and start another fish farm. Farmers who have moved inland and closed their systems can manage these issues properly.


Millions of farmed fish escape from farms into the wild each year. The greatest concern is that the outcome is unknown. The farmed fish will compete with native fish for food and habitat and could also breed with native fish to alter breeds or cause extinction.

Wild Fish

Farmed fish have to eat, and many of them are fish eaters. Wild fish are used to feed them. Salmon eat three pounds of wild fish for every pound they gain, and tuna eat 15. Fish meal and fish oil are made from sardines and anchovies.

Another detrimental practice that has developed is called ranching. Large quantities of juvenile fish are taken from the wild and placed into farms instead of being started from eggs. This has happened with an eel unagi in sushi restaurants and bluefin tuna, again depleting the wild fish supply.

On a positive note, some fish are not carnivores and eat very little or no wild fish. Catfish and tilapia fall into this category. Shellfish, including oysters and mussels, filter water, collect their own food, and thus have no need for fish in their diets.


Aquaculture has grown rapidly and continues to grow. Policies and procedures must be adopted to ensure the process is managed properly. The first concern is to decrease the use of wild fish and fish meal, and fish oil by promoting the farming of non-carnivorous fish and finding alternative fish foods which are sustainable. The second concern is reducing pollution through wastewater management and chemical and drug use reporting standards. Thirdly, regulations to protect the habitat need to be implemented. Lastly, third-party certification needs to rate and label farmed fish for consumers. Implementation of these policies will promote safe, healthy, sustainable aquaculture. If you choose to eat farmed seafood, check from where the fish originate to be sure they comply with these important guidelines.

Having looked at farmed fish, a second reason not to eat certain wild fish is by-catch. Bycatch is the killing of non-desired species for desired species and is a contributing factor to disappearing global fish stock. It has been observed that often 10 pounds and up to 100 pounds of fish are wasted and killed for every pound of seafood produced. One out of every four fish caught globally is wasted as a bycatch. It can also affect sea turtles, seabirds, whales, sharks, and porpoises. Dr. Sylvia Earle has spoken widely about this and wishes to see less pressure on global fish stocks and advocates eating less seafood to allow fish stocks to replenish themselves.

There are two types of fishing that cause by-catch, and these are longlines and bottom trawls. Longlines can extend up to 50 miles and are loaded with bait that can attract anything nearby. Bottom trawls drag the bottom and gather in everything in their path. Both these methods severely reduce juvenile fish populations, which would have grown to help replenish the seas. To compound the situation, pirate fishing–unregulated and unreported fishing that is now a $20 billion dollar industry– can comprise as much as 20% of the global catch, depleting fish stocks and undermining legal fisheries’ efforts for sustainable practices.

Shrimp is one of the kinds of seafood that produces a high amount of by-catch. One pound of shrimp can produce almost double that amount in by-catch. Shrimp to avoid for this reason include Black Tiger Shrimp, Tiger Prawn, White Shrimp, and Ebi.

By-catch can be reduced through the use of turtle excluder devices, which allow turtles to escape. Also, try to buy fish that are caught by trolling and pole and line rather than longline.

Furthermore, following the sustainable seafood guide will mean that you are making choices that will help to alleviate pressure on struggling species and improve Bonaire’s marine ecosystem.

Do Not Eat
Reason Not to Eat
Swordfish typically have to be over 100 pounds to reproduce. Smaller swordfish are increasingly being caught, depleting the population. North American swordfish are generally acceptable to eat. Swordfish tend to have more mercury, so intake should be limited.
Are considered either overfished or their status is unknown. They only reproduce for a short period of time, so are more vulnerable to declining population. Mature grouper are better at reproducing, so eating large groupers destroys a disproportionate part of the breeding population.
Is catch and release only on Bonaire. Marlin from the Atlantic should be avoided.
Tuna (imported, including Blue fin or Yellow fin tuna)
Blue fin and Big eye tuna are critically endangered and should not be ordered. Yellow fin tuna are also considered overfished in most global locations, although they are still found in Bonaire's waters.
Yellowtail Snapper
Consuming any type of reef fish from Bonaire's water isn't sustainable, as the shorelines is very narrow and the island's seagrass beds and mangroves are limited. It's best to stay away from this fish to avoid stressing remaining populations.
Consuming any type of reef fish from Bonaire's water isn't sustainable, as the shorelines is very narrow and the island's seagrass beds and mangroves are limited. It's best to stay away from this fish to avoid stressing remaining populations.
Purunchi (Coneys and Hinds)
Consuming any type of reef fish from Bonaire's water isn't sustainable, as the shorelines is very narrow and the island's seagrass beds and mangroves are limited. It's best to stay away from this fish to avoid stressing remaining populations.
Red Snapper
When freshly fished on Bonaire, red snapper are caught by handline at great depths of 400 feet or more, not by net. Because red snapper share the depths with the invasive lionfish, there's not much knowledge as to what is happening at those great depths. The safest is to refrain from eating locally caught red snapper. Imported red snapper are definitely not sustainable because fishing methods for shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico mean red snapper are also caught in nets as by-catch, and it is particularly damaging as many juveniles are caught.
Conch (Karko)
Even though conch are protected in Bonaire's waters, they are still poached. Please do not order conch in the island's restaurants, as the local populations are extremely threatened.

Okay to Eat
Reason Why Okay to Eat
Probably the "greenest" fish to eat on Bonaire, lionfish eradication efforts by local dive professionals and crews provides fresh catch in many of Bonaire's restaurants. Lionfish are an invasive species, preying upon native fishes, so their eradication is important for the health of the reef. "Eat them to beat them" is the local mantra.
Dorado/Dradu (Mahi Mahi)
Grows and matures quickly, so can recover well. Avoid if caught by longline.
Grows and matures quickly, so can recover quickly. More research continues to be done.
Tuna (locally caught Black fin)
Locally caught tuna is either black fin which is up to 18 inches in length and is abundant, or yellow fin, which is larger. Imported tuna is only okay if caught troll or pole and line, not longline, and not the critically endangered species mentioned above. If buying canned tuna, look for the certification as "sustainable" by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Farmed salmon should be avoided unless it is farmed in tanks. Wild-caught Alaskan is the best choice and is plentiful. All salmon served on Bonaire is imported, so question your server before ordering in a restaurant.
Jack and Rainbow Runner
Matures and reproduces quickly, so it replenishes well.
Masbango (Shad)
Is caught locally by hand nets or lines on Bonaire and is considered sustainable. It is usually found at local restaurants.
Avoid shrimp from farms that do not follow good fishery management practices. By-catch is a big problem for shrimp trawlers. US shrimp trawlers must follow stricter standards than other countries, so generally it is better to eat shrimp caught by them. All shrimp on Bonaire are imported, so question your server before ordering in a restaurant.
Most crab is considered sustainable. Avoid King Crab from Russia.

Some Helpful Tips for Selecting Seafood.

If you are going to be purchasing or ordering seafood and don’t have a guide handy, these are some easy tips to follow.

  • Eat lower on the food chain. Smaller fish are more abundant and generally have lower levels of mercury. Some good choices include squid, oysters, mackerel, sardines, and mussels.
  • Choose wild fish and only those which are still abundant. There are still concerns regarding the environmental impact of fish farming. Wild fish is usually a better option than farmed fish for both the environment and health, as long as heavily depleted fish stocks are not consumed.
  • Eat local. Fish transported from another location often means it was caught or farmed using unsustainable methods to keep the price down. Frozen or transported fish uses more energy to deliver it to the final destination. Local fish is always your best choice unless the local waters have been overfished.
  • Ask where the fish is from. The health of fish species varies by region.
  • Purchase from a trusted retailer. There are businesses that have committed to following long-term sustainable seafood plans, and they follow higher standards for the seafood they sell.
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