If you want to be a consumer who makes buying decisions with a clear conscience, you need to know how to buy sustainable fish. The marine environment is fragile and a number of fish species have suffered from over fishing to the point where stocks have become seriously depleted. If you are concerned about healthy oceans, you want to buy fish and seafood that comes from healthy, responsibly-managed sources that do not harm the marine environment. Here are the tips you need on how to buy sustainable fish.
The first and most important step in how to buy sustainable fish is making the decision to do so. Currently, this concern does not get as much attention as other food issues, such as organic food and GMOs for example, so making the decision is definitely a lifestyle choice. You are going to find it is not just a case of walking up to the fish counter with the assumption you’ll simply be able to swap your dollars for sustainable fish.
Having made the decision you want to know how to buy sustainable fish, the next stage is to learn how your actions help the environment and understand where your fish and seafood come from. This will help you make the right decisions about what you buy and eat from the ocean. It does take a bit of an investment on your part in taking the time to learn the information you need to know, or at least how to access the info when you need it.
3. Source Lists
A big part of the education process is knowing what various marine authorities in your country class as sustainable fish. Obviously, all countries fish different oceans and eat different fish, and the different methods of fishing will also have varying impacts. This means that there are various marine authorities around the globe that provide lists. For example, in the UK there’s the Marine Conservation Society, in Canada there’s Seachoice, in Australia it’s the Australian Marine Conversation Society and in the USA there’s a few. The US Government has a site dedicated to sustainable fish but it’s not very consumer friendly. Try Fishwise, Fishonline or The Blue Ocean Institute Seafood Guide.
4. Marine Stewardship Council
With the various lists for us to look at, it’s good to know that one thing available to us to know how to buy sustainable fish is a global labeling system. It isn’t all encompassing and it isn’t used everywhere, but if you can find fish that bears the Marine Stewardship Council logo it takes a lot of the hard work away. The MSC signature was developed to fit with the United Nations Food and Agriculture’s Guidelines for the Eco-labeling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Wild Capture Fisheries. With more than 200 fisheries having received MSC certification, there are more than 18,000 fish and seafood products sold in 100 countries around the world.
If you are concerned about the quality of your food, you probably already scrutinize the labels of anything you buy in packets or tins. The same goes for your fish. You’ll need to check in the US what your regulations are because I just couldn’t tie it down, but in the EU our retailers are legally obliged to state the species of fish and where it was caught and how. You need to know the difference between ocean fish and farmed fish, and fish that is caught by trawlers compared to line caught fish. The obvious way get help to choose sustainable fish is to ask the fishmonger. Even a label might not tell you what you need to know. For example, if a generic name is used such as tuna, ask what species of tuna it is because the conservancy of different species is at different stages.
6. Catch Method
The way the fish is caught can tell you a lot about how sustainable your fish is. Methods such as hand line fishing, pole fishing and potting are low environmental impact methods. Trawling – i.e. huge nets that drag the ocean – is responsible for mass produced fish and depletion of certain fish stocks. Also, it is the trawling method that can ensnare dolphins. You may have heard that you should not buy farmed fish – particularly salmon. I urge you to reconsider this. Fish farms are subject to a mass of regulation. The health of the water in which the fish are bred is constantly monitored to ensure an optimum environment and can be controlled in a way that the ocean cannot. Organically farmed fish come from farms that have low stock densities, high environmental standards and raise their fish on sustainably sourced feed.
One of the major causes of the world’s marine stock depletion has been our reliance on the “big 5“ – i.e. salmon, cod, tuna, haddock and prawns. There are so many fantastic species of fish that are totally delicious. The next time you buy fish – sustainable of course – try something different. You could look for a similar fish to the one you like, for example gurnard or Pollock instead cod, or you could try something totally new. One thing to remember, though, is to avoid deep sea fish. For one, deep sea fishing can damage fragile marine environments such as coral reefs, and secondly, deep sea fish are slow-growing, long lived and slow to breed, which makes them more vulnerable to exploitation and depletion.
Do you already take care in the fish you buy or now that you know how to buy sustainable fish, will you start making the choice to do so?