Supporting Sustainable Seafood

by Sue Taggart

Our oceans are increasingly affected by human activities—primarily the ways we catch and farm seafood. Today, fish and other populations of ocean wildlife, from turtles to seabirds, are imperiled. But, there is a sign of hope for the future as fishermen and consumers, businesses and governments recognize the threats and are beginning to rally around the concept of sustainable seafood.

But why should we care?

Currently, with 3 billion people depending on seafood as their primary source of protein, over-fishing is an issue that places the long-term validity of seafood as a readily available and affordable food source in jeopardy.

That number is projected to reach 9 billion by 2015 and our currently stressed oceans are not going to be able to keep up. Already 85% of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to their limits. The consequence of this type of overfishing caused the collapse of the Atlantic Northwest cod fishing industry in 1992 when the fish population suddenly plummeted to 1% of its former size. This led to the Canadian government declaring a moratorium, marking Canada’s largest-ever industrial closure where more than 35,000 fishermen and plant workers lost their jobs.

Changing an entire industry is no easy task. Companies and organizations are working together developing educational programs and sustainable brands. By taking the long-term view, they are putting into practice checks and balances that will reverse the problem and begin to build an abundance of fish stocks over the next decade.

One such program is lead by the Marine Stewardship Council. Their mission is to use their ecolabel and fishery certification program to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with their partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis. They encourage people to look for their blue ecolabel when shopping or dining out.

The certification evaluates based on three principles:

1. Sustainable fish stocks

2. Minimizing environmental impact

3. Effective fishery management

Currently 11% of fish stocks are fully certified and that number is growing. The average increase of fish stocks over 10 years for MSC certified fisheries is 46%. More information can be found at 

The World Wildlife Fund, the world’s largest conservation organization is working in 100+ countries and oceans around the world. One of their goals is to raise the volume of certified sustainable seafood available for consumption. As such, they help bring more fisheries up to certification levels and in particular to become part of the MSC certification program. Over time the WWF will have more resources to put behind this effort as brands like Wild Selection contribute 13 cents of every product sold to WWF to help fund these initiatives. Todd Newman  VP/GM Emerging Categories at Wild Selection said, “We are confident that we will reach our target of $1,000,000 to the WWF in the next five years”. These types of partnerships can have a real impact in making real change. Collin Lawson, Manager Corporate Partner Marketing at WWF is excited at the prospect and commented, “As sustainable seafood becomes more abundant, fisheries will be able to be more price competitive and consumers will be more willing to purchase sustainable brands.”

Certainly there is more information available to concerned consumers with organizations like the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Their pocket guide—which is regionally customized–lists fish to eat and fish to avoid and is really helpful when you’re dining out or buying fish to cook at home.

A whopping 67% of all US seafood goes through seafood retailers and restaurants. These businesses play a crucial role in the conservation of ocean resources and their buying choices can substantially impact fisheries. At the end of the day, consumers are the ones that can really make the biggest difference. With the voice and the purchasing power, we can all make conscious choices about what brands we buy and what restaurants we eat in.

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