It’s Lent again. A time when prices of fish would jack up as the demand for seafood increases. People are conscious as tradition and seafood at this time are intertwined. The demand is there, but how the fish gets to the plate is something to reflect upon.

The irony of things is that we only appreciate the value of something when we realise that we cannot find it anymore, when it becomes rare or is gone. The 3rd Sustainable Seafood Week concluded around two weeks now, so allow me to convey a few thoughts.

During the course of this event, we had a conversation on sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. What do we mean by sustainable? “A sustainable fishery is one whose practices can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the targeted species’ ability to maintain its population at healthy levels, and without adversely impacting on other species within the ecosystem – including humans – by removing their food source, accidentally killing them, or damaging their physical environment”.

The observance of Lent is giving us another shot at appreciating our seafood. Jesus, a fisherman, would definitely agree that the fish we eat should not come with exploitation, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction. But the truth is dim, as the frequently  cited 10 out of 13 overfished fishing grounds are a thing of the past. The current status is actually worse than we thought. Of the total 840 landing sites, signs of unsustainable fishing activities are still prevalent, based on the Philippine capture fisheries atlas published by the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute in 2017. In the maps presented, there were no green areas where less fishing intensity can be observed. If so, where in the hell do we get sustainable seafood?

Yes, we are facing a daunting task, but all is not lost, as Sustainable Seafood week participants - composed of private individuals, NGOs and government agencies - engaged in a conversation on where the Sustainable Seafood Initiative is leading to. How do we get there “Waze”-style? Simple and easy to understand. We set out to identify the annual milestones up to 2020, and we agreed on milestones for a three year period. Milestones for 2018 are Fisheries Management Areas Governance, Stock Assessments, Rating System and Chain of Custody Audits. In 2019, milestones are Reference Points, Harvest Control Rules and Vessel Monitoring Measures. By 2020, hopefully, a Participatory Guarantee system is in place, an electronic catch documentation is operational, third party certifications and certification for domestic markets are up and running.

One of the participants pointed out that “Mindset” is an important aspect of the Roadmap. It’s not only policy and legislation, and it’s a point I fully agree with. Consider these  points: When buying fish, instead of asking how much is the price, ask instead how the fish was caught; Be not too concerned with expiration dates as surely those fish are not fresh; Ask what fishing gear were used instead of the brand; Ask who is the handline fisherman who toiled from 2-3 days just to get that fresh tuna loins to 5-star hotels; Ask how the people along the supply chain are doing, if is there slavery at sea, and what assistance they need; Ask if fishermen are fully benefiting from these sustainable seafood marketplace; If the food chain has problems, so do our plates. These are the things we should be mindful of. If such mindsets shift towards this end, then we can have more fish for future Lenten seasons.

The real heroes are fishers using sustainable fishing methods. Let’s hear more about their stories first hand. Fishers are more important than fish. This Lenten season, let us reflect if the fish we are consuming does not condone the suffering of others.

Here’s to a meaningful Lenten season for us all.

Ephraim Batungbacal is the Regional Oceans Research Coordinator for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.