Why We Need To Support Sustainable Seafood

Why we need to support sustainable seafood. Part 1 of a series...

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!💙

A happy animated shrimp with hearts in its eyes, and its antennae in the shape of a heart.
Sustainable seafood is shrimply the best!

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!

Sylvia Earle quote, "With every drop of water you drink, with every breath you take, you're connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live."
Click the image for more from the awesome Sylvia Earle.

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!

A big school of jacks swimming closely together in the open ocean, sustainable seafood is instrumental in preserving these healthy stocks.
Healthy fish = healthy communities.

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!).

A school of fish, visible from below, in the ocean.
Stay in schools & only fish from healthy stocks!

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.

Fisherman pulling up a shoe, hook and lines are a lot less destructive.
Bycatch is unintentional marine species (or shoes!) caught during fishing.

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.

A map of Marine Protected Areas worldwide, with shades of blue showing where these exist. Most are patches in the Pacific Ocean.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) provide critical habitat for all marine life.

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.

Eel meme, "I made a joke about fish, but it quickly tanked..."

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.

Difficult People, "trash" gif.

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.

A group of 3 fishing boats in the ocean.
Unsustainable fleets: seems a bit fishy to me!

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.

A healthy and colourful coral reef, with lots of fish swimming around.
A thriving coral reef… You love to sea it!

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.

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