Now that you’re aware of the issues surrounding sustainable seafood, the next step is to use that knowledge to think about developing a sustainable sourcing policy. The best place to start would be consulting the more credible programs out there that assess fisheries and aquaculture products.
Seafood assessment programs were developed as tools to educate the public about seafood, and empower them to choose sustainably. Programs like the AMCS Sustainable Seafood Guide and the MSC’s ecolabelling program understand that providing accurate information is the key to gaining trust and encouraging people to use the information.
The following programs are useful in identifying sustainable sources of seafood:
- The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) assesses the most commonly found seafood in Australia, and gives each category a classification based on, amongst other things, the impact of the fishery on the marine environment and wildlife and the health of the target species. Australia’s Sustainable Seafood Guide is intended as a tool to help consumers make more responsible seafood choices.
- Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a global ecolabel and fishery certification program that aims to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.
- The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) does an analysis of specific fisheries in the Sustainable Seafood Assessment Program. This initiative assesses and promotes sustainable Australian fisheries and aquaculture operations.
- Greenpeace Australia produces a Canned Tuna Guide, which assesses different brands of tuna against sustainability criteria and promoting the use of well-labeled, sustainable canned tuna.
- Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is a global ecolabelling program which certifies responsibly farmed seafood.
For more information on all of these programs, as well as other sources you might find useful (including links to Government reports on the health of some of Australia’s key fish stocks), head to the Resources section of the website.
For wild fish, below are five elements to consider when making a choice about its sustainability:
1. The biology of a fish:
All fish are not created equal, and some are more vulnerable to overfishing than others. Species that are large, slow-growing and take a long time to reach breeding age are more likely to be negatively affected by poor fisheries management controls, because they take longer to recover from depletion.
Many shark species are a good example of this – a number of species around the globe are at historic lows because of overfishing, partly because they generally reach sexual maturity at a relatively late age and don’t have many offspring.
2. Fish stock levels:
Enough fish must remain after fishing that they can still reproduce and maintain or even increase their population (‘stock’) levels. Some fish stock levels may be so low that they simply cannot produce enough offspring to keep the fishery going, or perhaps cannot reproduce quickly enough to keep up with current fishing levels. Stock levels of particular species can vary from region to region so ask specifically about the species and where it is from.
3. Impacts on the environment:
There’s a general description of the different types on fishing methods in the Wild Capture & Farming Methods section of the website. Some fishing methods and gear types have a greater impact on the marine environment, while others tread lighter on our oceans. Seafood assessment programs consider fishing methods and impacts when assessing sustainability.
4. Impacts on other marine species:
Fisheries assessments consider the impact of fishing methods on other marine wildlife, including other fish as well as protected species – those with a high impact on protected or vulnerable marine wildlife generally score lower or have difficulty getting certified compared with those with minimal impacts. Fisheries with sustainable levels of bycatch and ones which use technology or methods to reduce bycatch are a better choice.
Governments and fisheries management agencies generally base decisions for permitted fishing catch on the best available scientific information. Governments also fund fisheries research. The effectiveness of management regimes varies around the world.
When management is poor, information is more likely to be incorrect, or the value of the fishery is so high as to override logic, management may become ineffective and result in fish stocks decline. Properly managed fisheries ensure fish in our future.
While aquaculture is not a new method of rearing seafood, the field is rapidly changing and expanding. Farming operations vary widely depending on management policies, the species being farmed, and the technological innovations being used.
For more of an explanation of fish farming activities, go to the Wild Capture & Farming Methods section of the website.
Sustainable seafood programs to assess farmed seafood generally use four overarching components:
1. Farm location and environmental impacts:
The site of a farm is a very important consideration, as fish farms create a lot of waste from the fish and their feed. Farms can be sited on land or in the water. If the farm is in the water, impacts depend on whether it is in a well-flushed area where currents can spread waste away, or if it is in a bay where waste accumulates. If it’s land based, impacts depend on whether wastewater pollutes the surrounding area, or whether it is being cleaned before being expelled from the farm.
2. Sustainability of the fish feed:
One-third of the world’s wild fish caught are used to feed other fish 1. This can be explained from our love of eating carnivorous fish such as salmon and tuna. But it’s important to know whether the fish used for aquaculture feed are caught sustainably, or whether the fish are fed plant-based feed. These factors play an important role in the assessment of farmed seafood.
3. Disease and escape risk to wild fish:
Similar to on-land animal rearing, animal density in aquaculture operations can create high levels of disease and parasites. While operators can control disease in farmed fish, there is a risk that wild species in the area will be infected, or that increased use of environmentally harmful chemicals to control the disease may be used.
Well-managed operations control for all of the above risks, ensure that operations are inspected, that concentration of farms is appropriate to the area, and control the potential impacts of waste and disease.
Read on to continue your journey to sustainable seafood: F I “S – Start a Conversation“ H
1 Naylor, R.L. 2009. Feeding aquaculture in an era of finite resources. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 8, pp. 15103–15110