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What is the goal of sustainable seafood programs?
The objective is to make choices that encourage environmentally friendly fishing practices in order to sustain the ability to enjoy seafood for many years to come. Consumers need to be aware because it us up to us to make sustainable choices. The continuous growth of technology now allows fishermen to harvest marine life at an astounding efficiency. Many different methods are used to capture and harvest marine organisms – and you’d be surprised as to how destructive some of them are.
The oceans are, and always have been, an important source of food for people. They have supplied us for hundreds and hundreds of years; however in recent decades there have been sharp declines in the worldwide production of fisheries largely due to overfishing and increased demand. Seafood is a common (and delicious!) component in the diet of many people, especially here in coastal New England. It is this connection between humans and marine life that produces the need to practice consumer stewardship (being responsible for what we buy and what we consume). The goal of making sustainable choices is fundamentally different than many other conservation concepts. We want to save populations of fish – not only for their benefit, but for ours as well. We want to continue the ability to use marine animals as a food source, and we also want to ensure the continuation of the many jobs and income that fishing operations have for many individuals, families, and communities.
Why Choose Sustainable?
By making sustainable choices, you as a consumer will be promoting a healthy marine ecosystem. The idea here is NOT to convince people to eat less seafood. We simply want to encourage responsibility and awareness as to what you choose to buy. Destructive fishing practices have driven many species to dangerously low population levels and without our help, they may be lost forever. But this is the good news: your choices can have a direct impact on shaping consumer demand and thus preserving the biodiversity of the oceans.
There are many different choices presented to us when buying seafood, and some choices you see are more environmentally friendly than others. In fact, some are environmentally wasteful and destructive. The measure of sustainability of a certain type of seafood is determined from the following criteria:
Aquaculture is a collective term for the practice of farming aquatic animals. It can be used for a number of different purposes, but the main purpose is to raise aquatic animals for human consumption. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, world aquaculture production has increased from 584,000 tons in 1950 to 79 million tons in 2010! This large increase in production is due to rising global population (increased demand) along with depleted wild stocks.
Many different types of organisms can be raised including freshwater fish, marine fish, shrimp, bivalves, and aquatic plants. Animals can be raised in ocean pens, lakes, ponds, streams, indoor facilities, or a combination of locations. You may think this is all well and good – farming lets wild animals prosper. But not all aquaculture is beneficial for the marine environment! Here is a brief outline of some of the effects of aquaculture:
The bottom line: “farmed” is not always better. Consult the "Guides" tab in order to check which animals are farmed in a sustainable way.
If you look carefully at labels of seafood, you will see most of the information you need to know to determine sustainability – whether it is farmed or wild-caught, the type of animal, and the location that it was caught/farmed. However, now you need to know on an individual species level, how the criteria meet each choice. This is where guides come in.
The following links all direct you to certified guides from reputable conservation organizations that are able to assist you in knowing which animals are better wild-caught, which ones are better farmed, and which ones to avoid altogether. The pocket guides can be printed out and stored in your purse/wallet, and the comprehensive guides give further information about the aspects of each choice and why it is deemed sustainable or not. For those that enjoy the convenience of sustainable seafood guides on your smartphone, download Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch App!
These guides make it easy to see if your favorites are sustainable choices! If you find your favorites to be unsustainable, don’t panic! The guides direct you to suitable, similar tasting alternatives!
Have a look at this video, produced by NOAA, that tells you a little more about finfish farming – how it’s done, environmental impacts, and some ways experts are reducing these impacts.
This video, part of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, tells you how to use their guides, and how your everyday choices make a difference.
Check out this great video to find out a little more about how mussel aquaculture (one of the more sustainable types of aquaculture) works!
Check out a new way of commercial tuna fishing – pole and line! This method differs from seines and longlines in that it reduces bycatch and has less risk for overharvest!
Have a look at Greenpeace International’s short documentary about fishing methods and the commitment of certain retailers to only sell sustainably caught seafood.
This video details the impacts of longline fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Learn how this inefficient, wasteful fishing gear hurts the economy and the environment!
These two links direct you to NOAA’s websites regarding the Fisheries Service and the aquaculture page. These sites are packed with interesting information, videos, and more– check ‘em out!
The Cod fishery collapse in Newfoundland in 1992 put 40,000 people out of work and destroyed a thriving biological community. Check out more about this disaster and how it served as a lesson to the world to practice sustainability:
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