Sustainability. It’s a word you hear more and more these days, often in the context of seafood and commercial fishing.
We read or hear about overfishing and about certain species becoming endangeredâ€”not obscure â€˜spotted owlâ€™ types, but common fish people have depended on for food for thousands of years.
You may have heard about bycatch, fish that are caught unintentionally when they are not the target catch. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, one in four animals caught in fishing gear dies as bycatch.
Perhaps you know that hook and line is preferred to trawling; that on-shore fish farming is safer than net pens in the open water; or that string and rack shellfish farming is preferred to ground culture.
And yet…when we walk up to the fish counter in our favorite supermarket or seafood shop, or scan the seafood selections in our local restaurants, what do we really know? How can we be sure that the fish we’re purchasing was harvested using sustainable practices?
One way to find out is to look for the blue eco-label signifying sustainability certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Seafood products with that seal have been certified as sustainable at the fishery level and are traceable throughout the “chain of custody from boat to plate. The number of fisheries, industry participants and MSC-labeled products is growing
at a rapid rate. Worldwide, certified sustainable seafood products bearing the MSC eco-label have doubled in the past 12 months to more than 1,100 products in 35 countries.
The Marine Stewardship Council is a global, independent, nonprofit organization that has developed the world’s leading environmental standard for certifying sustainable and well-managed wild capture fisheries.
Surf the Web for an ocean of information
In this Information Age, knowledge on seafood sustainability is literally at our fingertips. You just need to know where to find it. There’s an ocean of info available from a wide range of sources including industry groups such as the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the Seafood Watch program from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and environmental watchdog groups like EarthEasy and Greenpeace.
The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is an excellent source of information on seafood sustainability. The ASMI has teamed up with some of the top chefs in the U.S. to form the Wild Alaska Seafood Congress of Conscious Chefs. These leaders and innovators from the culinary industry share a passion for wild, natural, and sustainable Alaska seafood. They’re sharing through educational seminars, blogs and interviews. You can click here to learn more about these chefs, view of some of their favorite recipes, and read more about their support of sustainable Alaskan seafood.
The ASMI offers a series of online videos that provide a guided tour of Alaska’s science-based approach to sustainable fisheries management; an outline of the criteria set forth by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; and steps foodservice operations can take to implement seafood sustainability.
The Seafood Watch program from the Monterey Bay Aquarium makes things easy with pocket guides that are updated regularly and are available to download from the Internet. You can print it out to carry in your wallet or purse. Or download it to your mobile phone. It’s also available via Facebook and Twitter.
Follow your guide
The guides are pretty thorough, too. Its 2009 Culinary Chart of Alternatives counts down an extensive list of fish species to help you find ocean-friendly choices for seafood dining. It lists fish to AVOID, along with BEST CHOICES and GOOD ALTERNATIVES. Take it with you to the restaurant or grocery store. Knowledge is power.
Sustainable living website Eartheasy offers a similar Sustainable Seafood Guide along with other tips and information. For example, Eartheasy advises not to release balloons into the air. They can end up in the water where they are mistaken as food by fish, birds and sea mammals.
A watchdog group with a more radical reputation, Greenpeace, offers what it calls a Seafood Sustainabilty Scorecard of supermarkets, ranking the major U.S. chains on their support of sustainable seafood practices. Northeast chain Wegman’s Food Market received Greenpeace’s highest score. Others getting a passing grade were Ahold USA, Whole Foods, Target, Safeway, Harris-Teeter and Wal-Mart.
Power to the people
Clearly, there’s a wealth of data out there to help you make informed seafood selections. And, make no mistake, consumers can have an impact on this issue. It was the consumer uproar over dolphin bycatch that brought about meaningful change in the way tuna was harvested.
What more can you do?
There are other things you do as a sustainability supporter. Encourage your favorite restaurants to serve ocean-friendly seafood. Talk to the people at the seafood counter in your local supermarket. Seafood Watch offers Become Aware cards you can share with friends and familyâ€”even Thank You cards you can leave behind at restaurants and stores that support sustainability in seafood.
Simply spreading the word in conversations with family and friends can make a difference. The next time you order up some seafood for dinner, it might taste just a little bit better.
This is part of our Beyond the Plate series. View the complete series at: www.beyondtheplate.com.
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