My cat circled like a shark, swatting my soaked shoes with her paw as I peeled off my jacket. Sneakers, I realized, were a bad choice for the fish market.

Though it was only 5 a.m., I had just returned home from the New Fulton Fish Market at Hunts Point in the Bronx, one of the world’s largest fish purveyors, second in size only to Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Market. I had tagged along with executive chef Jodi Bernhard to better understand how the seafood she served in her Spanish-style restaurant traveled from the sea to the plate.

In the (very) early morning, Jodi and I met outside the 400,000-square-foot warehouse, dodging distribution trucks emblazoned with names like “Meat Without Feet” on the side. We walked through the doors and were hit with the pungent smell of a place that processes millions of pounds of fish daily. The sheer volume of seafood inside the market was staggering. Long, wide aisles were festooned with crates of cod, catfish, eel, halibut and red snapper; clams, oysters and scallops were wrapped in net bags, kept fresh on ice. As Jodi set out to place orders, I explored the aisles.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that Americans ate an average of 14.6 pounds of fish and shellfish per person in 2014, making the United States the second largest seafood consumer behind China. Despite our standing, the USDA recommends that we should be eating even more fish. The new 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines found that nearly all Americans, regardless of age or gender, fail to eat the suggested twice-per-week seafood intake. “Shifts are needed within the protein foods group to increase seafood intake,” the guidelines say, recommending that Americans swap proteins, such as beef, poultry or eggs with seafood. My visit to the fish market sparked some questions: With so many fish exiting the ocean daily, is it even environmentally responsible to increase your seafood consumption? Which species are sustainable, and how do you know? Should you actually eat seafood at all? Here, I attempt to shine light on the largest seafood issues and offer clarity about transparency in the supply chain, ocean health and more.

Seafood traceability: A quiet revolution

We can’t talk about the seafood industry without talking about traceability, or more accurately, the lack thereof. A 2013 report by the nonprofit Oceana found that out of 1,215 seafood samples from 674 retail outlets, including grocery stores, sushi venues and restaurants across the United States, DNA testing found that one-third of seafood was marketed as a different species. The worst culprits were snapper and tuna, which were mislabeled a whopping 87 percent and 59 percent of the time, respectively.

Why does this matter? Because it indicates lack of traceability throughout the entire supply chain—if you don’t know what kind of seafood you’re buying, how do you know it was caught sustainably? Or that it was processed without using slave labor, as a devastating 2015 Associated Press report found in parts of Thailand’s shrimp industry, which supplied major restaurant chains and grocery outlets in the United States. Traceability is hard, however. Especially in an industry where seafood can sometimes pass through five, ten, even 30 hands before it gets to your plate.

The U.S. government recognizes such convolution. In 2014 the Obama administration directed establishment of a task force to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated seafood fraud and is now working to establish a seafood traceability program for species at risk of mislabeling (including snapper, tuna, shark, grouper and more). But altering governmental procedures can be like reversing a clunky, slow-moving train. It takes a long time.

As a result, small, nimble seafood manufacturers are rising to meet market demand for traceable, sustainable seafood. “We founded Salty Girl to provide better access to sustainable and traceable seafood,” says Norah Eddy, cofounder of Salty Girl Seafood, which packages ready-to-eat and frozen fish. “The way we started doing that was sourcing directly from fishermen, because traceability is easiest when supply chains are short, as opposed to traditional seafood supply chains that have really long and convoluted supply.” A Santa Barbara–based marine biologist, Eddy is passionate about creating strong connections between the consumer and the seafood supplier because it means accountability. “I don’t think there’s a lot of accountability in the seafood industry. So much of what we need right now is awareness, and I hope Salty Girl will be a catalyst for positive change to incentivize fishermen to harvest sustainably.”

Salty Girl and other seafood companies like Fishpeople innovate in traceability by including tracking numbers on the back of each product package; enter this number into the brand’s website and you’ll receive information like where seafood was caught, the fisherman or name of the fishing vessel and sustainability certifications. A recent batch of Fishpeople’s Wild Seafood Bouillabaisse, for example, contains pink shrimp caught off the Oregon coast by a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)–certified fishery and docked in Ilwaco, Washington. Such granular information is wildly impressive, considering that many conventional brands provide no traceability information at all.

One thing we know for certain: People increasingly want to know where their food comes from. Over the past few years, land-based food production has excelled in providing such information. Notably, brands like bread company One Degree Organic Foods profile their grain suppliers on their website and Patagonia Provisions sources its entire line of grass-fed bison jerky from one conscious ranch, Wild Idea Buffalo. Such detail in seafood lags. But experts like Barton Seaver, director of Harvard’s Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment and author of the cookbook Two If By Sea (Sterling Epicure, 2016), believe change will spark from manufacturer, retailer and consumer perspectives. “Traceability is going to come from across the board. Manufacturers and retailers are going to lead the conversation because they have a unique opportunity to guide government policy on this,” says Seaver. “Seafood information hasn’t followed the fish to the consumer because nobody’s asked for it. Our expectations of what supply chain systems furnish for us need to change ...we need consumers to demand this.”