Sustainable Seafood: Understanding the source

fisherman hand-line method

More and more brands lean on the word sustainable as a catch-all term to identify their products as environmentally friendly, eco-conscious or any number of other green-focused terminologies. So much so, that a certain level of Greenwashing has happened around the word. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, greenwashing is designed “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”  At a time when transparency and traceability are primary consumer concerns, it’s important to understand what being sustainable actually means; and how to know if your seafood fits the bill.

So what is sustainable seafood?

According to the Oceanic Society, “Sustainable seafood is seafood that is caught or farmed (also called aquaculture) with minimal environmental and social impacts. When done correctly, sustainable seafood sourcing prevents overfishing, minimizes incidental impacts to other ocean wildlife and habitats, identifies and protects essential fish habitats, and takes into account the social and economic impacts on the communities from which the seafood is sourced.” A common misperception is that fishing cannot be sustainable and likewise, that seafood farming is harmful but in fact, both counts aren’t necessarily true. As with most things, it all depends on how the practices are put into place.

Identify the source

The first step in identifying whether seafood is sustainable or not is to identify the source of the fish. Oftentimes, this can be done by investigating a brand’s website or reading the back of a product label. There are certain phrases and terminology that must be included on packaging or within product descriptions that alert consumers to their foods’ origin, especially when a brand is claiming sustainability. For example, if the seafood is farmed instead of wild-caught, that must be stated on the packaging. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you should feel empowered to reach out to the brand or store and ask them for more information. It can be uncomfortable, but consumers have a right to understand the origin of their food.

Understand the source

Once you know where the fish is sourced from, the next step is to understand what that tells you. This can be challenging as there is a lot of misinformation about fish stocks and species. The best way to get reliable information is to consult one of the approved sustainable fishing guides from a trusted source, like the Marine Stewardship Council or Seafood Watch. These third parties independently research and rate fisheries and farms to provide consumer recommendations. Oftentimes, a brand will display any certifications they’ve received from these sources on their website or products, so you can quickly assess their seafood. 

How it’s sourced

Certainly, the source of fish is a primary factor in determining whether a product is sustainable or not, but you must also consider how a fish is sourced to understand the full picture. There are two primary ways of sourcing fish: fishing or farming. Wild-caught fish is often more appealing to consumers, but 90% of our world’s fisheries are fully fished or overfished. Plus, fishing can be detrimental to our oceans, causing issues like by-catch. The best way to fish is to use traditional methods, like hand-line fishing, to reduce bycatch. Responsible fishing in singular regions helps offset overfishing and keep wild stocks healthy. Seafood farming, known as aquaculture, gets a bad rap, but when done properly, is incredibly beneficial to our fish and our earth. Low-density, natural water pens minimize disease and allow room for fish to thrive and greatly lessen the risk of disease. As an example, our salmon pens are 30,000 sq. ft. and contain only 2% fish, an incredibly efficient and healthy ratio. Additionally, using responsible fish feed, like recycled vegetation or cleaned fish trimmings, helps reduce environmental impact while ensuring a tasty and contaminant free end-product for the consumer.

Is that it? 

Taken together, these three pieces provide insight into what makes seafood sustainable. But the crucial final piece is consumer knowledge. The more consumers demand transparency from their seafood, the more this information will become commonplace; and the more that companies will need to share their sources.

We’re proud to be one of the leaders in responsible seafood and continue to innovate above and beyond the checkmarks needed to be sustainable. You can learn about our practices here or dive into our infographics. Together, we can save fish for future generations.