I love the ocean. When I started spearfishing, I started caring about what I was eating beyond what I caught, planted, or foraged (proximity generates care!). In researching, I realized that there was not a lot of information available to consumers when it comes to seafood. A lot of what is out there is simply misinformation…and lots of shit products are on the market.
I am truly eager to find viable solutions to all the problems in our oceans, but after 6 years of studying fisheries, background checking seafood guides, consulting with marine biologists, scientists, fishermen, advocates, and seafood dependent remote communities, I still feel like I have a hell of a lot more to learn. This is because seafood is an unbelievably complex topic and is based on complicated science that is often overruled by non-scientific and emotionally informed perspectives. Personal preferences formed from misinformation, distrust, taboo and skepticism of science, government, and non-governmental advocates.
“A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes” – Sometimes attributed to Mark Twain
Misinformation does not always come from bad intentions (rarely so I’d say!). We all want the planet to be a better place and we all want to feel good about ourselves. Unfortunately, as the sustainability of seafood requires a lot of research, virtue signaling is a rampant issue and good intentions often create more damage than good. That is deeply problematic because the bulk of seafood offerings are bad for the planet, and we need clear, and credible information to consume seafood responsibly – and make sure we encourage the right participants in the food system.
Misinformation also leaves an extremely hard trail to cover up which is why science-based facts are crucial to encourage consumers to make what they consider the best options. Key words being “what they consider”.
Sustainability is subjective – tell me what you value, and I’ll tell you how to eat! There is also no one size fits all approach to marine conservation and the food system, and it is no wonder that the debate over the sustainability has become such a hot button topic.
So, what are some things that we must consider when determining the sustainability criteria of any fishery?
1- The quality of management of the species. Such considerations must take into account not only the status of the stock but also if appropriate regional and international measures are being taken to sustainably manage the stock. A healthy stock can become overfished if there is poor regulation and oversight. Conversely a stock that is subject to overfishing can be considered a sustainable option if measures have been taken to restore the stock status. This is true in the case of U.S. wild-caught Pacific bluefin tuna – that is currently under rebuilding measures that limit harvest by U.S. commercial and recreational fishermen (source). Appropriate management of fisheries resources is nuanced, dynamic, and best applied regionally.
2- The ecosystems it affects. If you fish a certain species, there are fish above and below in the trophic chain that will be affected.
3- By-catch. The unwanted fish and other marine creatures caught during commercial fishing for a different (targeted) species. Bycatch can be marine animals (dolphins, turtles, whales, sharks), or other similar species – for instance large schools of adult skipjack tuna often mix with juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna (source).
4- Carbon footprint. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of food product produced. It is worth noting that wild capture fisheries have 95% less carbon footprint than meat (source).
5- Human rights. Fair wages, and a safe workplace at sea and on land.
6- Human Services & Social Factors. Fish lives matter yes, but so does the livelihoods of 10-12 percent of the world’s population – that’s over 870 million people! – that depend on fisheries and aquaculture making fisheries a pillar of the global economy (source).
7- Food security. With over 3 billion people on earth relying on seafood as their primary source of protein (source), stopping fishing completely isn’t viable. World health authorities also agree that protein from fish and shellfish is part of a diet for optimal health for every human being (source).
*NOTE: Read the ingredients list carefully when buying fake seafood products; some have very little nutritional value, many are overprocessed, and plant-based isn’t necessarily synonymous with ethical or sustainable. (e.g. use of palm oil that is responsible for deforestation and loss of biodiversity).
Fisheries Subsidies. It’s a very complex topic and I’ll dedicate a full blog post to this in the future, but for now: most of fisheries subsidies contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and IUU fishing. “Good fisheries” aren’t the beneficiaries of this (source) (source)
Still think sustainability is easy? I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling dizzy already and we haven’t even touched upon the tip of the iceberg!
If sustainability is something you care about, the best tools you can employ are:
- Perform your own personal research (not just what you believe, but also opposing viewpoints), deepen your knowledge and practice critical thinking when it comes to ALL form of food production (seafood for now, you can bother the meat people later).
- Annoy your fish monger with questions and dare to ask for what you want to see! There is power in the dollar and demand for sustainable seafood incentivizes the supply chain to purvey those options. Be that guy (or girl).
- Be ballsy. Try that fish with the ugly looking head if it’s on the best choice or good alternative (not naming names, that’s just rude)
- Consult guides and NGOs recommendations. Are they perfect? Hell nah, but they are scientifically informed, peer reviewed, transparent, and continuously improving.
Keep it locked! I have a lot more information coming your direction to help dive into controversial topics, debunk myths and make sustainable seafood easier to navigate. Most importantly I am only sharing facts that are scientifically based and not my personal opinion (unless otherwise specified). Every source will be cited and your collaboration matters. What questions do you have or want to know more about?