Smart Seafood Guide

Photo: iStockphoto.com/anouchka
How to buy ocean-friendly seafood

Your seafood choices matter! Unfortunately, many popular seafood items are fished or farmed in ways that are environmentally destructive. The effects of unsustainable fishing and aquaculture practices are already obvious worldwide, including right here in Canada. According to SeaChoice, most fisheries are poorly managed and global fish stocks have been fully exploited (52 percent), over-exploited (16 percent) or depleted entirely (seven percent). Scientists estimate that there will be no fish for commercial harvest by 2048.

The good news is that you can help. Choosing sustainable seafood is an easy and effective way to support healthy, abundant oceans. Voting with your dollar sends a message that you demand responsible stewardship of our marine resources. Here are Green Living’s tips on finding and buying ocean-friendly seafood:

Know where your seafood comes from

The health of different seafood species varies by region. To help you choose, SeaChoice works with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program to rank the sustainability of most seafood sold in Canada, both farmed and wild. Use its search tool or iPhone app, or print its handy wallet guide. (There’s even a sustainable sushi guide). Two other great resources: Greenpeace’s Redlist of the 21 most destructively fished or farmed species and David Suzuki’s Top 10 Sustainable Seafood Picks.

When in doubt, ask questions: What kind of seafood is this? Where does it come from? How was it fished or farmed?

Buy from trusted retailers and restaurants

Because they are the middlemen between the oceans and you, retailers and restaurants play a crucial role in the conservation of ocean resources. These companies can be a powerful force for change.
                                                                                                                                            
Greenpeace produces an annual ranking of Canada’s eight major supermarket chains, evaluating their provision of sustainable seafood. In 2012, Overwaitea is at the top, having made positive changes in seafood procurement (for example, it no longer sells open net-pan farmed salmon). Loblaw, Canada’s largest buyer and seller of seafood, launched an Oceans for Tomorrow campaign, which aims to raise Canadians’ awareness of sustainable seafood and healthy oceans. The company is aiming for all its seafood to be sustainably sourced by 2013 and is removing red-listed products such as American red snapper and canned yellowfin tuna.

Sobeys has also worked hard to remove depleted species, such as longline swordfish, from its shelves. It works closely with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership to initiate change and educate consumers. Sobeys has also partnered with Ecotrust’s Thisfish to provide a seafood traceability program in its stores across Canada. We love it! For a list of other North American companies committed to sustainability, visit the Conservation Alliance for Sustainable Seafood Solutions

While some retailers are taking action, much more work is needed to give our oceans the protection they need. Call or write your favourite supermarket or restaurant and urge the managers to develop or strengthen their sustainable seafood policy. Greenpeace offers store addresses, phone numbers and letter-writing tips.

Demand better labels

Canada’s labelling laws don’t require seafood providers to include information like exactly where their products come from, whether they’re farmed or wild, the presence of any additives, or health warnings, such as high mercury levels. Take SeaChoice’s seafood pledge and wield your consumer power to let government and industry know you want a better labelling system.

More and more seafood companies are seeking voluntary eco-labels. Be wary—eco-certification doesn’t necessarily equate with “sustainable.” Find out what SeaChoice considers necessary for a credible eco-certification, or use the National Resource Defense Council’s Label Lookup (get the app here).

We recommend The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the world’s leading certification and eco-labelling program for sustainable seafood. It’s an independent, non-profit organization, with standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. Many of Canada’s fisheries are already MSC-certified.

Thanks to pocket guides, apps, eco-conscious retailers and environmentally savvy consumers like you, it’s never been easier to choose wisely at the fish counter. Sustainable seafood represents a healthy relationship with our marine resources. Our oceans are in trouble, but we can still turn the tide.

Have you changed your seafood buying habits? E-mail editor@green-living.ca