Choosing greener seafood

Publication - April 7, 2009
There's no doubt that our oceans are in crisis. But with the constant ebb and flow of information, it can be tough for consumers to know what is real and what has been watered down. What is for sure is that we are taking 2.5 times more out of the sea than what is sustainable and we need to ease up on the volume we consume. But if you do choose to eat from the sea, here are some guidelines to help lessen your ocean footprint:
  • Avoid eating Redlist species. Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there. The Redlist currently focuses on the most commercially relevant species, but many other species remain at high risk of being sourced from unsustainable fisheries or aquaculture operations;
  • Choose seafood caught using more selective fishing gear. If the label or salesperson indicates that it was trap caught, hand picked, harpoon caught or hand-lined, those are better options because the fishing gear targets only the species that it intends to catch and other species are less likely to be caught as bycatch. Selective fishing methods also tend to use less fuel than methods like bottom trawling or purse seining. A few examples are trap caught B.C. prawns, Nova Scotia harpoon caught swordfish and diver-caught shellfish from sustainable stocks;
  • Buy local if you have the option. It will likely make it easier to get information on the product, and it lessens the climate footprint by decreasing emissions from travel. Seafood that travels to destination by air freight, such as fresh seafood, produces twice as many emissions as fish that travels by boat, such as most canned or frozen seafood. Choosing minimally packaged seafood will further decrease your carbon footprint.
  • Farmed shellfish, including mussels and scallops, are often better options than fished or harvested shellfish. Where possible, choose farmed shellfish that comes from suspension culture (as opposed to bottom culture) native to the region in which it is farmed;
  • Choose farmed fish that do not rely on wild-caught fish for food in order to lessen the burden on wild stocks. Tilapia is one such omnivorous farmed fish which mainly consumes vegetable proteins. North American raised tilapia is a better choice than tilapia produced in Asia due to better regulations;
  • Eat species lower down on the food chain. Generally these species which include clams, oysters, and sardines are less threatened because they reproduce faster, are more abundant and eat lower on the food chain themselves.

More seafood for thought:

  • Buying sustainable seafood is difficult because there is no reliable certification scheme to mark out products as good to buy.
  • In many countries such as Canada, seafood labelling is still very poor, making it impossible for consumers to trace where the fish they buy comes from, and what method was used to catch it. Asking your seafood supplier for details about the origin and fishing or farming method will help send the signal that we all need more information!

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