Hand-Harvesting Seafood: The Environmentally Friendly Option

Hand-Harvesting Seafood: The Environmentally Friendly Option

In the quest for sustainable seafood, hand-harvesting methods ( https://seafood.ocean.org/seafood/harvest-methods/ ) are emerging as some of the most environmentally friendly. 
Hand-harvesting seafood is exactly what it sounds like: people visually identify the seafood species they want to harvest and then harvest from that species. This means no bycatch, that is to say, no destruction of marine species not targeted for harvest. The lack of bycatch is a considerable advantage from a sustainability perspective. The issue of bycatch has devastated many marine species, thanks to fishing methods that are indiscriminate and bring in many non-targeted species. 
Another advantage of the hand-harvesting approach is that it minimizes habitat damage. The reality is that many commercial seafood harvesting practices, particularly bottom trawling and dredging, are tremendously destructive of marine habitats. This is why hand-harvesting seafood may be the most environmentally sustainable ( Learn moreharvest. 
Ecosystems are complex things, and the disruption caused by a bottom trawl or dredge will affect plant life and destroy the shelter, damaging the potential of that area to support marine organisms. This compounds the pressure on the ecosystem caused by the harvest.  On the other hand, hand-harvesting leaves the ecosystem relatively undisturbed. With more precise targeting of sought-after species, there is less damage to the ecosystem as a whole.  
Hand-harvesting can be applied to a variety of marine species, but for practical reasons, it is most commonly applied to bottom-dwelling species such as clams, barnacles, lobsters, and sea urchins. These species include a mixture of mollusks, crustaceans, and echinoderms, all bottom-dwelling and relatively easier to catch than fast-moving fish. 
Some excellent examples of sustainable hand-harvested seafood come from the British Columbia sea urchin and sea cucumber fisheries ( https://www.aquablog.ca/2019/11/foraging-the-ocean-hand-harvesting-delicacies/ ). Both of these fisheries are very sustainable because they rely on hand-harvested, or diver-caught, seafood. 
Additionally, both fisheries are subject to a great deal of research and monitoring. This helps to ensure that the regulations placed on the fisheries keep harvest to sustainable levels. 
The fact that British Columbian sea cucumbers and sea urchins are harvested by hand, also means that they are handled with care and caution. This means they are not scratched or damaged when they make it to the markets. 
Depending on where they live, hobbyists may also be able to get into hand-harvesting shellfish recreationally ( https://modernfarmer.com/2019/07/how-to-harvest-shellfish-from-the-shore/ ). Most American states have specific and strict regulations, and it is usually necessary to get a license for recreational harvest. 
Hand-harvesting comes with its own challenges, and some of these vary based on the species of shellfish. Mussels, for example, can often be found on rocks at low tide and dislodged without too much trouble. Oysters are trickier and usually require a tool to dislodge. 
As consumers and activist groups demand sustainability, it will become more and more of an imperative for the industry to adopt sustainable methods of harvest. Hand-harvesting is likely to be a key part of the future. 

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