Sustainable Seafood Choices: To Eat or Not To Eat?

Seafood is widely acknowledged to be a significant source of nutrition. Seafood provides healthy fats (like omega-3s) and protein in our diets, along with other beneficial nutrients like iron and Vitamins B and D.

However, the growing demand for seafood, along with technological advancements has led to many unsustainable fishing practices across the globe. Today, nearly 90% of global fish stocks (where fisheries source their fish) are either completely exhausted or depleted.

This depletion has direct impacts on other marine life and the overall ecosystem.

Maintaining healthy fishing and sustainable seafood sourcing practices is necessary to protect adequate food supply and environmental health, not to mention preserving the livelihood of millions across the globe.

What is Sustainable Seafood?

Seafood is “sustainable” when it is either farmed or fished in ways that are less harmful to the future vitality of a species and its impact on the larger ecosystem. When done correctly, it causes minimal environmental impacts.

There are many ways that we as consumers can support these sustainable practices by making better choices in our seafood consumption. But it can feel daunting when thinking about where to start or if you don’t have fresh local options.

Below are several ways to make better, more informed choices, no matter where you are.

Use Sustainable Seafood Guides

There are helpful resources available for those who are trying to make more sustainable choices.

Guides like those from Monterey Bay Aquarium will tell you the state of any fish you search for on their app or website. They label and color code fish by the best choice, certified choice, a good alternative, or a fish you should avoid based on fishing practices and population status.

They also have a regularly updated seafood guide that will help you quickly search for the best types of fish to each in each region.

Don’t Be Afraid of Frozen Fish

Not surprisingly, research shows that consumers gravitate towards fresh fish when thinking about sustainable options. However, fresh seafood may not always be as “fresh” as we think it is.

In the seafood industry, “fresh” means that the seafood you are purchasing is not frozen (though this doesn’t mean it never has). If the fish you’re buying is locally sourced and in season, then you’re right – fresh is your best option.

But most people don’t get their fish that way. Sometimes fresh fish must travel for days to get where it needs to go.

Frozen fish, on the other hand, has been flash-frozen when it’s still fresh. This process minimizes nutrient loss and often kills any harmful bacteria that might be present.

Frozen fish also can be eaten at any point, which could ultimately lead to less waste.

Aim for Biodiversity

Biodiversity is a fancy way of saying – eat different types of seafood. Most Americans commonly turn to four types of fish – cod, salmon, shrimp, and tuna. But, unless you’re buying from specific regions, these typically aren’t the most sustainable options.

Focusing on only three or four types of seafood places pressure on those fish stocks, disproportionally affecting them.

Instead, search for a similar option or try something new. The Monterey Bay Aquarium guide can be a helpful resource for finding sustainable alternatives.

Keep an eye out for Certifications

While certifications won’t always be available, if you do see a certification seal for Ocean Wise or MSC on your purchase, it means that it holds a certification as a fish that is responsibly sourced from fisheries and farms.

These certifications can be something to consider when purchasing seafood, but they certainly shouldn’t be your only criteria. Seafood certification is a work in progress and is not necessarily representative of all good options.

For example, the certification process can also be expensive – a prohibiting factor for some smaller fisheries and farms.

Ask Questions

If you’re not sure where your seafood is coming from – ask. Your local grocer or restaurant server might be able to answer your question. Even if they can’t (which very may well happen), it will show them that their customers care.

It may also prompt them to find out where their fish is from. This action will ultimately help not only you but also future sustainably conscious customers.

Consider Limiting Your Seafood Intake

You might also consider limiting your fish intake and integrating other protein sources into your diet.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, a renowned marine scientist, has suggested that the consumption of all seafood stop until better solutions are found to maintaining seafood populations.

“I personally have stopped eating seafood,” she explained to National Geographic in an interview in 2019, “I know too much. I know that every fish counts at this point. If we value the ocean and the ocean’s health at all, we have to understand that fish are critical to maintaining the integrity of ocean systems, which in turn make the planet work.”

Dr. Earle’s caution is a reminder that all fish – evens sustainably sourced fish – are essential to the food hierarchy and ecosystem. Any overfishing or taking of fish out of the sea at unsustainable levels will continue to negatively impact fish populations and harm our environment.

To choose sustainability, it is critical that we educate ourselves, incorporate biodiversity into our diets, and be mindful consumers of our seafood.

-Rebecca Clayton

Photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels

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