Seafood Choices: Harvard Changing The Way Students Eat Their Fish

By January 2, 2013 Ocean News

Universities, especially large schools like Harvard, have a lot of hungry minds and mouths to feed. The Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) has risen to the challenge of making their operation more sustainable, from both an energy and food waste perspective. Now, HUDS is also offering sustainable seafood menu choices  in their campus food courts.

Previously, Harvard’s food courts offered meals of tuna, tilapia, shrimp and salmon among other tasty ocean creatures. Starting in the fall of 2012, after months of planning, sustainable dishes are being featured as alternatives for the fish foodies of Harvard. The dishes include as swai (a South Asian catfish), as well as mussels and shrimp caught nearby on the East Coast of Canada and the US.

What the HUDS has undertaken is no small task. Buying ‘sustainable’ seafood is not as easy as it sounds. Buyers need to consider so many variables that it can be difficult to find a truly sustainable meal. Some considerations include, buying wild or farmed fish; local species which may be in limited supply or international species where we don’t know the harvesting practices. And in some sad cases, you have no idea what you’re buying without performing a DNA analysis. All over the world threatened and endangered species are often sold under common fish names such as ‘cod’ or ‘catfish’. In Toronto and New York markets, research has shown that many fish species are mislabelled , making it nearly impossible for conscious shoppers to make a sustainable choice.

Fishing practices over the past two centuries as well as habitat degradation has decimated many of our fish stocks. While calling for a moratorium on all fish and seafood consumption is unrealistic, there are many actions we can each individually and collectively take to preserve what we have left in the oceans and promote its restoration. HUDS is developing guidelines for sustainable seafood that will help many large organizations adapt to similar practices in the future. This is the crux of the matter, since most sustainable eating guidelines are aimed at individuals and families, not a dining hall that may feed several thousands of people. However HUDS isn’t doing it alone. They are getting a lot of help from sustainable seafood advocate Barton Seaver who authored “For Cod and Country”. Together, they will monitor the success of the HUDS program and report their findings so that other large organizations can model similar programs based on HUDS’ success.

seafood watchWhile HUDS faces the daunting task of feeding thousands, most of us only have a few hungry mouths to feed. Happily, there are many places you can go for sustainable seafood guidance. One widely used source is produced by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeaFood Watch. It helps seafoodies make the best sustainable choices for their meals. There is even an iPhone app!

Choosing to buy sustainable seafood whether it is sustainably harvested, farmed, or wild, can make a big difference in what ends up on all our plates at home and in our restaurants.  This is one Ocean Conservation action to which we can all contribute!

Will you use the Seafood Watch app now that you know you can make more sustainable seafood choices?

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