Seafood and Sustainability:
Are They Compatible?
By Emily Powell
If you’re anything like me, you love fish and seafood. However, it does seem a bit odd to enjoy salmon or shrimp while living in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, which is why I prefer to choose protein sources that are more locally produced and more sustainably managed than seafood. Fish and other seafoods can be wildly difficult supply chains to trace, making it really hard to determine if I’m making an unsustainable choice. In addition, the grim reality of overfishing and overexploitation of our world’s fisheries has done an incredibly effective job at nearly eliminating my appetite for fish and other foods that come from what’s left in our seas.
Despite the reality that only a fraction of us live near the beach or ocean, the issues of the unsustainability of our marine fishing industries permeate all of our consumeristic diets and lifestyles. Beginning in the 1800s with our decimation of the whale population in pursuit of satiation of our lamp oil appetite, and accelerating in the 1900s with the development of sophisticated fishing techniques to fill expanded fishing capacities intending to make affordable protein widely available, humans continue to have tragically detrimental impacts on the structure and integrity of the ocean’s food webs and ecosystems. By 2003, a scientific report stated that, as a result of more advanced fishing techniques and a larger demand for cheap seafood, the population of large fish was just 10% what it was before industrial age developments. Now, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website announces a newly depressing statistic: 90% of the world’s fisheries are overexploited or have collapsed.
But this is not the end.
There are fisheries and fishing techniques that are more sustainable than others, as various certification programs such as the Marine Stewardship Council and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch tell us. In consideration of the future of our ocean and our world’s natural beauty, it is our choice and our duty to boost the advancement of sustainable seafood and create the demand that is needed to pressurize supply chains into being more responsible and environmentally ethical. So, in order to prevent the complete annihilation of the ocean’s food webs and ecosystems, we have choices to make. Here’s how to make those choices as informed and proactive as possible:
Eat seafood that’s been sourced directly from sustainable fisheries. How do you know if it’s sustainable? Ask questions. Let the business or restaurant know it’s important to you to understand where this fish came from and how it was caught. If you can find out the species of fish and the method that was used, reference the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website/pocket guide/app to find the sustainability rating.
The Seafood Watch program is a science-based, peer-reviewed, qualified rating program that takes information from a fishery from several perspectives, including the reliability of current stocks, the responsibility of fishing techniques used, and the risk of bycatch and other environmental damages such as poisons, to determine the sustainability of the fishery. The program then translates this information into a readily-available categorization that gives you the “red,” “yellow,” or “green” light for supporting a specific seafood product. Avoid red. Be cautious of yellow. Go crazy over green. Easy enough, right?
Only consumers have the influence to change how our fishing industry works. Only we can pressure our policymakers and enforcers to lower their tolerance for illegal fishing, environmental damage, and black market exchanges of endangered species. We can speak loudly using our wallets, choosing to support companies that sell sustainable fish and use sustainable practices. Although it takes tremendous personal will and empathy to take responsibility for havoc being wreaked in areas we do not occupy with species that seem insignificant, it is a responsibility we must face to ensure that the next generation’s world will be even half as beautiful as today’s. This threat to the integrity of our pristine oceans is staring us in the face, and we’re not going to back down.
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Emily’s exuberant passion for sustainability and sustainable nutrition stems from her everlasting love for the outdoors, people, dirt, and broccoli. As an undergraduate in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, Emily is working towards becoming a spokesperson for everyday sustainable food and lifestyle choices, including decisions on what foods you buy, where you buy them, and how you make the most of foods’ energy. Leveraging communication through writing, Emily has been recognized in competitions such as the DuPont Challenge and the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative for her essays on sustainability issues and initiatives, including Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder and community gardens in elementary schools. Emily aspires to utilize relationships with other academic disciplines to plant the seeds of sustainability and nutrition principles in the young adults of her generation. She plans to earn her Registered Dietitian credential and work either on the community or personalized sustainable nutrition level.