Photo by Andrea Nguyen.

On the Mother Jones website yesterday, contributor and author Julia Whitty posed some important questions about a small, less popular fish that’s begun to come back into vogue in recent years.

The post, called “It’s Okay to Eat Sardines…Right?,” began like this:

Sardines are considered a “sustainable” seafood, one of the few fish you can eat guilt-free, right? Well, not exactly. Forage fish like sardines and anchovies are the key players in huge but delicate food webs known as wasp-waist ecosystems. These are so complex and dynamic that it’s questionable whether we have the know-how to manage them well yet.

Whitty went on to illustrate that we don’t, in fact, seem to know how to manage the world sardine fisheries very well. And she presented a telling and useful chart that tracked the global capture of sardines over the last 50 years. It shows a mountain of consumption that rises steeply in 1975 and goes crashing back down again 20 years later. She also points out that although the Marine Stewardship Council approves of sardine eating, Whitty herself has written in the past about what she sees as lapses in judgement on its part, when it comes to the fishing practices surrounding other types of fish.