Saving Our Seas
Have you ever been to a restaurant or grocery store and noticed the “sustainable seafood” label? If you’re wonder what it means, you’re not alone. For many of us, we’ve become disconnected from where our food comes from and how exactly it gets to us. To that effect, I’m hoping to shed some light on the issue!
Welcome to part 1 of my sustainable seafood series. With this post, we”ll dive into the term “sustainable seafood,” exploring what it means, why it’s important, and ultimately, why it’s the better choice!💙
The Ocean’s Bounty
Whether you like it grilled, fried, or rolled up in rice and seaweed, there’s no doubt seafood is a popular and healthy choice. Billions of people around the world, especially in coastal communities, rely on fish as their main source of protein.
But the fish in the ocean are not limitless. Giving up fish entirely is one option. But even if you’re not ready to give it up completely, you can still choose sustainable seafood. It’s an important step for healthy and vibrant oceans!
What is Sustainable Seafood?
Sustainable seafood is fish and shellfish harvested in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the surrounding ecosystem. It can be sustained over the long term.
The industry uses 3 main criteria to get the certified-sustainable label:
- Fish from healthy stocks
- Use methods that limit by-catch and damage to the habitat
- Have a comprehensive and responsible management plan
Not only is this good for the fish, but also for the communities that rely on the fisheries too!
1. Healthy Stocks
Healthy fish stocks represent large populations that are more resistant to fishing pressure. They’re more likely to reproduce quickly and often. Healthy stocks are also less impacted by warming oceans.
At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring that there are enough fish to maintain a thriving population for years to come. The goal is to keep the removal rate lower than the replacement rate (= no overfishing!).
2. Safe Methods
Certain gear reduces bycatch. Species such as turtles, sharks, birds, and even other fish can get caught in nets not meant for them, then discarded. Some estimate as much as 40% of total catch is bycatch!
Using nets with compulsory Turtle Exclusion Devices (TEDs) give an escape route for trapped animals. Using a hook-and-line is more selective and far less damaging to the ocean floor and other animals.
3. Responsible Management
A combination of science-backed policy, strong regulations, and accurate monitoring keep the “sustainable” in “sustainable seafood.” Having protected areas where fishing can’t occur, strict catch and size limits, and season restrictions give the stocks much needed protection to remain healthy.
Why is Sustainable Seafood Important?
I feel like there’s plenty of attention given to the consequences of land-based factory farming (which is totally warranted of course!). But when we talk about reducing our impact on the planet, being more selective with our seafood purchases can make a huge difference. Because most of us don’t live out in the open seas, it can be harder to see the impacts these fishing fleets have.
1. More Fish
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 90% of fish stocks are either fully fished or currently overfished. This is definitely not sustainable.
Actually, the entire sustainable seafood movement first gained traction after the Canadian cod fishery collapse which resulted from uncontrolled overfishing. Unfortunately, we’re approaching precariously close to this limit for seafood species worldwide. If entire fish populations are removed from the oceans, we could be left with vast ecological and economical damage.
2. Less Plastic
Not only does the fishery industry remove fish, it also adds plastic.
Skipping the straw is great, but did you know that the majority of ocean plastic is abandoned fishing gear?
Also known as “ghost gear,” over 640,000 tonnes of discarded or lost nets, lines, and traps end up in our oceans every year. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a giant mass of ocean plastic that converges where ocean currents meet. It’s 46% fishing nets! That in addition to a whole lot of other fishing gear and debris.
Floating nearly invisible in the seas, these nets suffocate and strangle all sorts of marine life. Sustainable fishing techniques make a huge impact in reducing plastic pollution.
3. Less Destruction
On top of the plastic problem are the destructive fishing practices: dredging and trawling ploughs through the seabeds; poorly managed aquaculture leaches excessive hormones and antibiotics; and using dynamite for “blast fishing” destroys coral reefs.
It can be difficult to regulate what happens in international waters. Even officially banned practices are used because they are cheap and provide the only source of income for some fishers. But true sustainability engages in every step of the supply chain. It makes industry a crucial part of the solution. Less destruction benefits everyone: the ecosystem, the tourism, the fishers, the community, and the consumers.
Sustainable Seafood: It’s The Better Choice
In a clamshell, sustainable seafood aims to protect the fisheries for the people and the environment in the years to come. By choosing sustainable seafood, you show the corporate powers and fishing industry that you care about how your food gets to you.
Curious about the difference between wild-caught and farmed seafood? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this Sustainable Seafood series!
Editing by Marc-Antoni Tarondo.