Being an ocean advocate is all about choices. Every time you make a purchase you make a choice. In choosing what products to buy you also choose what company to support and you tell that company “I want you to keep providing this item”. How and what we fish is having the greatest impact on our oceans (both directly and indirectly). Each time you buy fish you are supporting a fishery. Why not use this power to support only those that are sustainable? Think of it as voting – each purchase casts a vote for a particular fishery – vote for the ones that will ensure fish for the future.
There are sustainable fisheries out there and we should be rewarding their efforts and encouraging other fisheries to make similar changes and efforts. So what do you need to think about when you cast your consumer vote? In the end smart fisheries choices are similar to other smart food choices: Where does it come from? Is it local? How was it obtained? What has been added? Who was impacted by my choice?
When it comes to fisheries the species and the way it was caught are what need to be considered. Generally, fast growing, lower trophic level fish are best. These fish reproduce quickly, require fewer resources, and are often healthier choices as they tend to have lower mercury levels than larger species. The fishing method used to catch a fish varies by species, but as a general rule bottom-trawling is terribly destructive and should always be avoided. A sustainable gear type has low bycatch rates and causes minimal habitat damage.
Making Informed Choices
Start by reading the labels on your fish products. Labeling requirements are getting better and better. Oftentimes you can learn the country of origin, wild or farmed, and the way it was caught. Next check for logos. Choose products that have been certified sustainable by organisations like SeaChoice, Oceanwise, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and Friends of the Sea. Still not sure? Empower yourself and ask someone who should know. Talk to your local fish seller and seek out restaurants that are making sustainable choices. Finally, there’s an App for that! There are lots of great guides out there to help you. For example, SeaChoice maintains up to date colour-coded charts and guides (for your pocket, sushi outings, and even your iPhone) based on species type, catch method, health concerns, and more.
The benefits of making sustainable seafood choices extend well beyond the species. It is good for your health. Not only is fish a great source of protein and Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids, but shopping sustainably (with the help of a guide) will ensure you lower your exposure to mercury. Shopping sustainably also helps to support local Canadian livelihoods and protect Canadian food security. And significantly, choosing to shop sustainably protects human rights in other countries. It helps to ensure that the one billion people in the world who rely on fish as their main protein source continue to have access to it. Since much of the fish from developing countries is exported to wealthier nations, buying locally reduces the market pressure for this demand. As yet, there are no fair trade fish!
One last note: unless your shrimp/prawns came from a local, trap-using fisher – put them back! Shrimp fisheries create 15 pounds of bycatch for every 1 pound of shrimp caught. Shrimp farming methods are known to destroy important mangrove habitats, utilize harsh chemicals, and kill off local biodiversity.
Want to know more? Here are some resources:
About The Author
Julie-Beth McCarthy is a marine conservationist with ten years of interdisciplinary research experience. She received her MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation, and Management from Oxford University in 2010 where her dissertation explored the role that marine culture and heritage could play in marine planning in Newfoundland, Canada. She is interested in all aspects of marine conservation, particularly those that exist at the intersection of different disciplines. Having lived and travelled across Canada, Europe, the UK, US, and Australia, Julie-Beth recently moved to the west coast of Canada and is looking forward to contributing to Canada’s marine conservation efforts.