Choosing Eco-Friendly Seafood

Eco-Friendly Seafood

Sustainably sourced seafood is an invaluable way to preserve marine species and habitats while also helping to prevent overfished or threatened fish species from entering our food chain.

To identify sustainable seafood, look for labels from organizations that promote responsible practices, for instance, the Marine Stewardship Council and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.

Marine Stewardship Council

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) establishes standards for sustainable seafood and certifies fisheries that meet those standards, making their distinctive blue ecolabel an easy way for consumers to recognize sustainable options. They work with fishers, retailers, processors, and others to drive change in both water and markets, with the vision that oceans become vibrant with life while seafood supplies remain secure for future generations.

Overfishing is a serious threat to ocean wildlife, livelihoods, and seafood supplies. The Marine Stewardship Council works to stop overfishing by checking the health of fisheries stocks and how they affect other species and the ecosystem. MSC certification standards say that fisheries are sustainable if they have healthy populations and few negative effects on the ecosystem. They also have to follow good management practices that are good for the environment, like making sure birds don’t get caught in nets by accident or mapping the seabed to find sensitive habitats.

Aside from assessing stock health, the MSC also evaluates the sustainability of fisheries’ management and governance systems. A fishery must demonstrate its ability to sustainably harvest target species and maintain healthy populations over time for MSC certifications to be credible and trusted among stakeholders.

The MSC’s mission to protect seafood supplies and marine environments has won support from governments, industry associations, environmental groups, and NGOs alike. Yet some critics contend the standards set by MSC aren’t rigorous enough, and its system is biased, such as charging fishermen certification fees while paying retail buyers royalties for using its ecolabel. According to critics, these fees and royalties could create potential conflicts of interest and compromise its credibility and integrity.

While its standards have caused debate, the MSC has done much to increase the availability of sustainable seafood through partnerships with retailers and fisheries. Their efforts have reduced pressure on land-based agriculture as an increasingly environmental threat source of protein, and studies have demonstrated that wild-captured seafood may actually have a lower carbon footprint than many animal proteins.

Aquaculture Stewardship Council

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council is an independent organization that oversees a certification program for responsible seafood harvesting. Their goal is to ensure that both wild and farmed fish harvesting does not negatively impact ocean life and surrounding environments, including humane handling of animals, water quality issues, and disease prevention and protection measures. Their label indicates the fishery or farm where it comes from; some standards may include water quality issues, feed procurement from certified sustainable farms or fisheries, as well as environmental impacts of harvesting processes.

Seafood is an integral component of billions of people’s diets worldwide. While seafood provides millions of people with livelihoods and protein sources, its rapid demand has led to unsustainable fisheries and poorly run farms that produce overfishing, poor working conditions, and environmental damage.

WWF collaborates closely with seafood retailers and consumers to promote more environmentally sustainable seafood purchases. Coastal communities rely heavily on ocean health for income and food security; our work aims at improving marine habitats and species while helping fishermen and farmers implement changes that increase the sustainability of operations.

There are various resources available to consumers looking to select eco-friendly seafood, such as region-specific guides and sustainable certifications. Each guide or certification takes a different approach when it comes to targeting types, culinary preferences, and social values; some focus solely on environmental sustainability, while others include criteria such as social equity, fair trade, and nutritional value as part of their criteria set.

Begin by taking stock of what kind of seafood you consume and researching the options available for each species. When making this determination, consult regional seafood guides or sustainable certification programs like Dock to Dish that promote locally sourced options to find eco-friendly solutions.

Avoid seafood labeled with misleading marketing terms such as “sustainable,”  “responsible,” and “eco-friendly.” These statements can falsely advertise themselves as eco-friendly choices without third-party verification. To ensure you are buying truly eco-friendly options, look out for certification labels like those provided by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch or ASC.

Montrey Bay Aquarium

Built on the site of a former sardine cannery in Monterey, California, Monterey Aquarium aims to educate people about marine life and ocean conservation, while also promoting sustainable seafood consumption through their Seafood Watch program. Their rating system uses information such as fish populations, habitat impacts, harm caused to other species, and management practices as inputs to produce ratings of green (best choice), yellow (good alternative), or red (avoid).

Overfishing is a serious threat to ocean health. We are harvesting wild fish populations faster than they can replenish themselves, with some fishing methods like trawling causing irreparable harm to ocean habitats and bycatch (the capture of non-targeted wildlife) having devastating effects on sea turtles, dolphins, seals, and other wildlife. Furthermore, some fishermen engage in fraud and slavery practices.

Sustainable fishing and farming practices help mitigate the negative environmental effects associated with seafood consumption. Sustainable production systems reduce overfishing, minimize incidental impacts on other marine wildlife and habitats, identify critical fish habitats, and take into account any social or economic effects the seafood harvesters and sellers might face when harvesting and selling it.

We should also consider the carbon footprint of seafood consumption. Shipping requires vast amounts of fossil fuels in order to power boats and airplanes that transport it from its point of origin, keeping temperatures optimal while also keeping costs down. You can help reduce this footprint by purchasing local seafood products.

Sustainable seafood consumption can help limit exposure to toxins. Marine animals like herring, sardines, and anchovies contain heavy metals like mercury and cadmium, as well as persistent organic pollutants like dioxins and flame retardants, making their consumption essential in mitigating this contamination.

Seafood harvested or raised sustainably is one way of showing grocers, restaurants, and markets that customers care about sustainability. Asking these establishments about the origin of their seafood can influence its sourcing; despite the initial discomfort, many have integrated sustainable practices into their business models and offerings.

Seafood Watch

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has gained recognition for its seafood guidelines, which guide consumers and chefs in choosing environmentally sustainable seafood options. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program assigns sustainability ratings to commonly available wild-caught and farmed species in the U.S. marketplace, based on their impact on marine and freshwater ecosystems. These ratings indicate Best, Good Alternative, or Avoid status, and include health alerts when contaminants exceed safety thresholds.

Evaluation of seafood products begins with an in-depth review of government data, scientific literature, interviews with fishery and farm experts, and interviews conducted with members of the Seafood Watch team. Scientists independently review this information to form recommendations that reflect the best available science and data.

Seafood Watch assessments focus heavily on whether fisheries use sustainable practices that protect long-term fish populations and habitats, including sustainable fishery management practices, species conservation goals, and plans in place to mitigate the impact on marine life. Bycatch levels, the use of sustainable trimmings in compound aquaculture feed, and the impact of fishing gear on habitats are potential additional considerations.

Seafood Watch insists on sustainable practices from fishermen and farmers in order to guarantee the quality and safety of its seafood, such as not overfishing a species, not polluting nearby waters or habitat, treating workers fairly, and upholding environmental standards.

Sustainable seafood consumption can make a dramatic impact on our environment. By choosing sustainably caught or farmed seafood options, consumers can help save wildlife populations while improving nutrition levels and maintaining ecosystem equilibrium. Selecting sustainably farmed or fished seafood is a straightforward approach to responsible consumption.

Many retailers, restaurants, and meal kit delivery services rely on the Seafood Watch guidelines to determine which seafood they offer their customers. Recently, Blue Apron garnered attention for removing its lobster menu item from Seafood Watch’s red list; HelloFresh, which provides similar meal kits through household subscriptions, has pledged to adhere to these guidelines in its sourcing strategies.

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