Photo: Rockfish: Many distinct fish reduced to a single name

(Credit: Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

By Theresa Beer, Senior Communications Specialist

Foodies know a local place of origin makes a food item more appealing. Pemberton potatoes, Fraser Valley blueberries, Niagara grapes and Holland Marsh carrots are hot commodities at local markets and in restaurants. But when you buy fish at the market or order it at a restaurant, there's a good chance you won't know what it is.

For example, more than 100 species of fish go under the generic name "rockfish" or "snapper." These include Pacific Ocean perch, chilipepper fish, cowcod and treefish. Most belong to the genus Sebastes, which belongs to the order Scorpaeniformes — the scorpionfishes. There are at least 34 species of rockfish in British Columbia seas alone.

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Being unspecific may shortchange the value of the rockfish we eat. Sebastes are long-lived. A rougheye was recorded at 205 years old — a Herculean survival effort in an ocean undergoing so much change.

Rockfish bottom trawling fisheries have improved. But only about one-third of the allowable harvest is caught mid-water. Four species of midwater-trawled rockfish are sustainable "Best Choice" options: yellowtail, yellowmouth, silvergray and canary. A government assessment indicates a healthy stock of yellowtail rockfish in particular.

More than 30 per cent (by volume) of seafood imported into Canada can't even be ranked and assessed for sustainability. There just isn't enough information.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency uses only common names for fish and seafood. A single species can go by many names from ocean to plate. We'd be closer to knowing what we're eating if we required a species' scientific Latin name and/or a more specific common name.

Better reporting of seafood sustainability requires traceability, including country-of-origin labelling, country of processing, species name and harvest method on all products sold. Then you can savour that beautiful rockfish on your plate and appreciate its voyage to get to you.

July 26, 2016

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