Johns Hopkins University

Fall 2008
Vol. 6, No.1


"First Steps" in China

Fulbright Scholars Around the Globe

Finding a New Way

Big Crises, Big Questions

>Sustainable Sea Change

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Sustainable Sea Change

photo of fish underwater


he bay is a sheet of glass at dawn. A young woman surfaces for breath, adjusting her dive mask, a spear gun cocked in one hand. The bay is still as a picture. What worries the young spear-fisher is that, below the surface, hardly anything moves, either.

Just a few months earlier, reef pockets like this one in the Florida Keys were scenes of constant motion: angelfish scattering into coral crannies, grouper sulking in the rock shadows. Spear-fishers would return from day trips with healthy catches to sell. But now the fish holes have the eerie feel of ghost towns.

photo of Jennifer Kemmerly

The shocking contrast, which Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly MS '99 experienced a little more than a decade ago, was enough to launch her on a career path to the forefront of the sustainable seafood movement.

After her summer in the Florida Keys, Kemmerly left her job as a middle school science teacher to come to Hopkins to study environmental sciences through AAP. She worked for conservation groups while earning her master's degree and then moved to work within Northeast fishing communities. "I wanted to balance conservation ideals with business practicalities," she says. In 2001, she found that balance by becoming the head of Seafood Watch, a pioneering consumer information initiative launched by Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, Calif.

"This isn't a problem for tomorrow's generation; it's a problem for this generation," says Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, of over-fishing and other environmentally detrimental practices.

Seafood Watch evaluates the environmental impact of fishing and fish-farming practices on an ever-broadening range of seafood. It condenses its findings into pocket-sized guides available for free from the organization's website ( The guides indicate which seafood makes for environmentally responsible eating. Farmed oysters, for example, appear on the green "Best Choice" list because their production can be ecologically beneficial. Striped marlin, on the other hand, appear on the red "Avoid" list, due to population decline. There is also a yellow "Good Alternative" list. There are guides for nationally popular seafood as well as regional favorites, and all recommendations are based on established scientific evidence.

The idea, Kemmerly says, is to generate consumer demand for sustainable seafood, creating market incentives for environmentally responsible fishing and aqua-culture. The effort ultimately benefits everyone, she points out, citing a study in the November 2006 issue of Science. The study predicted the world's seafood supply would be exhausted by 2048 due to over-fishing and other detrimental practices.

"This isn't a problem for tomorrow's generation; it's a problem for this generation," she says.

To date, more than 20 million guides have been distributed. And Kemmerly, now Seafood Watch's business specialist, is bringing the message to major corporations. This past April, ARAMARK, one of the nation's largest food service providers and Homewood's own food service vendor, partnered with Seafood Watch, agreeing to purchase seafood from sustainable sources.

Kemmerly's spear-fishing days are long over. The waters she once frequented around the Keys are now a marine life sanctuary. She points out that within only a decade, some fish populations there are already rebounding.

"It can happen. It just takes work," she says. "I want to be part of that work."