What Is Sustainable Seafood?
Sustainable seafood is any type of fish or shellfish that people can eat without harming or jeopardizing its ability to continue living and thriving – or the ability of any other species to do so. Around the world, global warming, overfishing, and waste contribute to dwindling populations of seafood. By committing to selling only sustainable products, KnowSeafood aims to do its part to make sure that future generations have the same opportunity to enjoy healthy, vibrant oceans – and the wide variety of delicious food that they produce.
For seafood lovers, sustainability starts with what you eat and where it comes from. Working in unison, thinking globally and acting locally, we can all use our economic power and purchasing choices to fight the threats to our environment and that of our favorite foods. But it means making sure that we commit to eating only sustainable seafood, and that starts with making sure we know what it means when we talk about sustainable seafood.
What Makes Seafood Sustainable?
To be considered sustainable seafood, any fish must be caught in small enough numbers to allow the species to maintain a healthy and productive population across the ecosystem. A sustainable species of seafood comes from an effectively managed fishery with a robust population. The species should be monitored and appropriate harvest limits enacted so that no more fish are caught than the population can easily withstand losing, and the population can’t be one that faces other types of threats to its survival, including loss of habitat or rising ocean temperatures.
All sustainable seafood needs to be harvested in a way that prevents harm to any species or its habitat. Sustainable fisheries monitor to ensure that bycatch – additional species caught during fishing – is limited and that any likely species to be caught in addition to the target can withstand the loss. Bycatch reduction often depends on the method used to catch the fish – KnowSeafood’s Maldhoni yellowfin tuna, for example, is hand-caught, so each tuna gets pulled in immediately and individually, ensuring only the targeted tuna are caught.
As ocean temperatures rise and plastic pollution increases, many species face forced migration or elimination. It’s happening everywhere, at an alarmingly rapid pace. While we can all do our best on land to slow global warming and reduce our use of plastic products, the same low-impact mindset is essential for fishermen and aquafarms on the water.
Monitoring, Tracking, and Traceability
Without knowing the impact of a fishery, it’s hard to know anything about the sustainability of a species. It’s important that fisheries use science-based methods to monitor the target seafood and other nearby species, as well as the local habitat so they have the data to make sure the seafood remains sustainable. It’s also important that all sustainable seafood be tracked and traceable, since knowing how it was caught and where that happened is important to determining sustainability.
Aquaculture: Is Farmed Seafood Sustainable?
Because 80-85% of wild-caught species suffer from overfishing, one way to avoid depleting fish populations is by eating farmed fish. Many types of seafood can be farm-raised or wild caught (including salmon and shrimp), so sustainable fish farms keep their farmed populations separate from wild populations to ensure that they don’t cause any harm to the natural stock or any other local species.
The sustainability of farmed seafood depends on the type of fish, the type of farming, and where the locations of the farm. The best aquaculture farms avoid using antibiotics, have plenty of free-flowing water to keep the fish active, and must take careful measures to ensure it causes no damage to local habitats or pollution in the waters. While farming fish helps to reduce pressure on wild species, it’s important to remember that – just like with wild seafood – some farmed seafood is sustainable, but not all of it.
Just by trying a new-to-you seafood, you can eat more sustainably. Human nature makes people instinctively want to eat what is familiar, but that often adds pressure to already stressed fisheries. By diversifying diets and incorporating lesser-known species, eaters can help make all seafood more sustainable.
At KnowSeafood, we constantly adapt to the changing environment, both globally and locally, working to minimize our impact. By introducing exciting and underutilized seafood, we expand palates while reducing the impact on overfished species, giving them more time to recover.
Beyond Sustainable Seafood
All KnowSeafood partners pay a fair living wage to employees because, in addition to making sure that sustainable seafood keeps fish populations safe, the best sustainability monitors also make sure that the people involved with a fishery are treated humanely. That means looking for companies, boats, and farms that pay people a livable wage, prioritize safety, and provide reasonable working conditions.
After the Catch
Sustainability doesn’t end at the beach: the shipping and packaging materials used for the seafood and the energy used for transportation all factor into its impact on the environment. KnowSeafood aims to use as little plastic as possible and as much recyclable materials to bring seafood to our customers, including shipping products with dry ice packaging to keep them frozen without adding waste.
Sustainable Seafood in the US
The United States does a solid job with wild fisheries and nearly all legally caught wild seafood in the United States is sustainable. However, the farmed fish regulations are much less strict, and most of the seafood sold in the U.S. is imported, often from places without the same strict standards for sustainability.
How Do I Find Sustainable Seafood?
The easiest way to find sustainable seafood is to purchase your seafood from a vendor – like KnowSeafood – that’s committed to supplying only sustainable products. You can also look at the lists and certifications by various organizations that rate the sustainability of seafood. All KnowSeafood vendors, for example, are approved by either the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) or the ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) and every product is a Monterey Bay Aquarium “Best Choice” for sustainability.
Using Seafood Watch
In app, pamphlet, or online form, at SeafoodWatch.org, The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s system for monitoring sustainability offers easy-to-use, color-coded lists of seafood. Each item ranks as a “Best Choice,” “Good Alternative,” or a species “To Avoid.” Because sustainability depends on the geographic origin, method of harvest, and type of seafood, the list is specific and sortable. For example, users can easily look up Peruvian aqua-farmed scallops and see not only that they qualify as a “Best Choice,” but why – with rankings in categories including habitat, disease, and feed. “There’s no effluent and chemical use, and ecosystem impacts are minimal,” it says, ranking them green. Green means go: the organization describes “Best Choice” options as ones to buy first: “They’re well-managed and caught or farmed responsibly.” They suggest people should also buy seafood in their yellow “Good Alternatives,” category, but “Be aware there are concerns with how they’re caught, farmed or managed.” Meanwhile any red “avoid” seafood species should be, naturally, avoided, as they are not sustainable: “They’re overfished, lack strong management, or are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.”