According to a report I recently read 23 metric million tons of sustainable seafood was sold worldwide for $11.5 billion last year. Compare that to only 500,000 metric tons just 10 years ago. That equates to a 35% annual growth over the last decade. You would think that would be something we should all be excited about, but when you look more deeply into the issue all is not what it seems.
Not so long ago the ocean’s bounty seemed to have no limit. Now we know better.
What is Sustainable Seafood?
To qualify as sustainable, seafood must either be caught in the wild or farmed in a manner that helps sustain the species harvested and the well-being of the oceans, as well as the communities that depend on fishing for their livelihoods.
The Sustainable Seafood Movement began in the 1990’s with the realization that the marine ecosystems of the world were being overexploited and destroyed. An system of Ecolabeling and public awareness through social media was launched.
Ecolabeling programs evaluate the production process with set environmental standards by an independent third party. Should the process fulfill the specific requirements, the producer or marketer may purchase a license to use an ecolabel in its marketing. This label allows the consumer to know that the product was produced sustainably.
International Institute for Sustainable Development
Much of what I’m discussing here comes for a recent report concerning sustainable seafood from the International Institute for Sustainable Development. Their stated mission is to promote human development and environmental sustainability through innovative research, communication and partnerships.
Established in 1990, IISD is an independent, non-profit organisation that provides practical solutions to the challenge of integrating environmental and social priorities with economic development. We report on international negotiations, conduct rigorous research, and engage citizens, businesses and policymakers on the shared goal of developing sustainably.
You can read the report in it’s entirety here.
So What’s the Issue?
There are two main issues faced by this process.
The first is farmed fish. In many places it has destroyed the surrounding ecosystem due to feed and waste management as well as introducing sea-lice to the wild fish populations.
The second is a bit more tricky to explain but it deals with the whole ‘third party’ oversight. Currently that role is held by the Marine Stewardship Council. They opened themselves up to criticism when they awarded a MSC Sustainable Label to the Antarctic toothfish fishery in the Ross Sea despite a lack of basic information on the stock itself. An excellent documentary on this is The Last Ocean.
Richard Page, a Greenpeace oceans campaigner stated “I will go as far as to say consumers are being duped. They think they are buying fish that are sustainable and can eat them with a clean conscience.”
So what to do and who to believe? I’m not sure I have an answer to pass on. I’m not even sure where to begin. I can say that it seems we need to approach this issue and any information concerning it with a heavy dose of skepticism; asking ourselves, “So who benefits from this particular answer?” Hopefully we’ll eventually arrive at the truth, or at least as close as we can get.
Then we continue sounding the horn.