Every day, consumers are bombarded with buzzwords when selecting groceries – natural, organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and so on. Coupled with news headlines about the environmental impacts of growing, raising and catching food, it’s no wonder many of us are becoming more confused about which choices are right for our diets, our budgets and the environment. And nowhere is this issue more confounding, perhaps, than in the seafood section.
Fish and seafood are flavorful sources of protein, and the variety and versatility of the ocean’s bounty is no mystery. What may be considered a mystery is whether all the options in front of us are sustainably sourced. Some are labeled wild, others farm raised, but questions remain given the limited information provided and the fact that mislabeling can occur (an independent study of the open global market found an average mislabeling rate of 30 percent for all fish and seafood).
With the world’s growing demand for seafood, ocean environments are increasingly strained. The oceans provide financial support for about 10 percent of the world’s population through artisanal and commercial fishing careers. Overfishing – when too few adult fish remain to breed for a healthy population – has been an issue for some species, and it can decimate fish stocks and habitats as well as the fishing communities and economies that rely on a healthy supply.
Illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing continues to occur around the world and can exacerbate overfishing problems. IUU fishing generally disregards quotas and the environment, as does destructive fishing, which may expose delicate ecosystems to explosives or chemicals.
Fortunately, industry groups have developed standards and certifications to help us navigate the murky waters and find some clarity. For 20 years, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), for instance, has been refining its science-based standards for certifying sustainable fisheries and introducing traceability in its efforts to keep the oceans wild and teeming with life for generations to come. And, seafood that has been determined to meet the MSC’s stringent standards is marked with an easily identifiable blue fish label.
By looking for the trusted blue fish label, seafood shoppers can be assured that their purchases:
- Represent only wild fish or seafood from fisheries assessed by an independent third party to meet strict science-based criteria.
- Support sustainable fishery practices and good management that adapts to changes in the environment.
- Can be traced back to certified, sustainable fisheries and are kept separate from non-certified fish and seafood.
- Feature correct labeling, providing peace of mind while selecting food for the dinner table.
Of course, not all certification labels are the same. To make a truly informed choice, you might consider doing a little homework before deciding which label to seek and support with your shopping and dining-out dollars. Several well-regarded international organizations maintain best practices for food production, sustainability and traceability, providing recognition of certification and ecolabeling programs that meet them. Organizations like the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), ISEAL Alliance (the global memberships association for sustainability standards) and the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) are all considered reputable sources for more information.
With a little research, you can gather information that helps ensure the seafood you put on the table can be traced to its source and verified as wild and sustainable. At the same time, its enjoyment can be guilt-free: each purchase provides incentive for more fisheries, retailers and restaurants to join the movement to support transparency, traceability and sustainability in our food system. By speaking with their wallets, consumers have the power to track their seafood from ocean to plate and keep it wild.