If I could only eat seafood, I would be quite happy. I’ve tried everything from jellyfish to cuttlefish, in addition to all the varieties of actual fish. So, I like the month of October, as it is National Seafood Month.

National Seafood Month is a celebration of all kinds of delights that we harvest from the sea. It simultaneously celebrates the health of our oceans, a necessity to provide harvestable products, as well as our connection to our oceans through those who harvest its food and bring it to market and to our tables.

This month, restaurants around the country feature creative preparations of seafood, conservation organizations educate consumers about making healthy and sustainable choices, and fishermen’s groups share stories of their lives and heritage on the sea.

Here in Maine, we are lucky to have such a rich array of choices that are part of our food supply, as well as our culture. From the elusive wild caught striper to cultured juicy blue mussels, I love knowing that these species are local and that it is the job of someone who lives and works nearby to bring them to harvest.

One local group that has been working to promote Maine’s seafood bounty this month is the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, a nonprofit organization led by commercial fishermen and advocates for a healthy Gulf of Maine ecosystem that also supports the needs of Maine’s iconic fishermen and fishing communities.

There’s no better way to celebrate National Seafood Month than by supporting Maine’s commercial fishermen. Contributed photo

They do so through education and outreach, as well as business support and collaborative research. As a part of National Seafood Month, they are challenging consumers to eat more Maine seafood and learn more about Maine’s iconic fishing industry.

Monique Coombs, director of marine programs for MCFA, says, “National Seafood Month is so important to our organization not just because we want people to eat more seafood, but because we want people to consider the hardworking people harvesting fish. If it wasn’t for Maine’s fishermen, we wouldn’t have any seafood. The best way we can think to celebrate National Seafood Month is to encourage more people to eat seafood and support Maine’s working waterfront and harvesters.”

You can follow MCFA’s efforts to promote local seafood at www.mainecoastfishermen.org, which features stories, recipes, and videos about seafood and the fishing industry.

If you are looking for a way to support the local seafood industry, you could go to the grocery store. While at first it sounds like a simple thing to go out and buy some local seafood, you may find yourself stymied at the seafood counter.

Aside from the iconic Maine lobster, how can you tell amongst the colorful spread, what else came from Maine waters? There are many choices from salmon to tilapia, and the origins of some are more obvious than others. Hint: Tilapia is a fresh water species. Salmon is more complicated – some are from Maine and others are not. There hasn’t been a wild caught commercial salmon fishery in Maine for many years though, so if it’s wild caught, it isn’t from Maine (most likely its from Alaska). Aquacultured salmon could be from Maine or Canada. Oftentimes these are labeled, but even when they are, you need to know what you’re looking for.

The other species you may recognize as local are cod and haddock. While these fish are harvested in Maine, the fillets you are looking at could also come from New Hampshire or Massachusetts. The distinction between wild caught and aquacultured is usually more likely to be marked than the place where it was harvested, but you can always ask the person at the counter where it came from.

There are also a variety of labels that are helpful, such as the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s “Responsibly Harvested” label. GMRI is a research and educational non-profit based in Portland that works with MCFA on gear research to improve sustainable, harvesting techniques.

Other local species to look for include flounder and hake. Or, you might find halibut, tuna, or swordfish, but those are less common at Shaw’s or Hannaford. Then, there are shellfish. These are a somewhat easier choice as many come from Maine – oysters, scallops when they are in season, and mussels, both wild and cultured. Shrimp are not from Maine unless you luck out and find some delicious tiny wild Maine shrimp during their brief winter season.

I haven’t covered all the offerings here, but hopefully the most common.

To throw a wrench in things, I have to add that local isn’t always sustainable and it is important to know how your seafood is harvested to understand how bountiful that species is and how the harvest technique might impact other marine life or habitat.

For example, catching fish on a line usually has less impact than netting it, although there are net designs out there that do little damage to the bottom and don’t catch and waste unwanted species. That said, finding out the harvest technique of the species you’re interested in buying is even more complicated.

GMRI’s website has some good information as do guides like the Monterey Bay aquarium’s seafood guide, though its focus is more broad geographically. Aquaculture is a whole different story and depends on the species. Shellfish have minimal impact and improve water quality, whereas fin fish culture is trickier, since they move and produce waste. Their waste can pollute surrounding waters and the fish can sometimes escape, impacting the local species.

All that said, I hope you won’t be daunted, but will instead take this as a learning challenge to look for labels and ask lots of questions. Even if the person you ask doesn’t know the answer, you can bet they will go find out for next time. So, enjoy the great seafood we have in Maine and celebrate the people and culture it supports – this month and every month.