Is Seafood Sustainable? Part I: Demand for Eco-Friendly Seafood Grows


Editor’s Note: This is Part I of a three-part series on the global overfishing crisis and the sustainability of seafood. Read parts II and III to get the full perspective of the seafood industry.

Recently, renowned infographic designer David McCandless of the blog Information Is Beautiful created a visual guide to eco-friendlier fish consumption, called, simply, “Which Fish Are Okay to Eat?” Based on data from the Marine Conservation Society, Greenpeace and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, McCandless’s guide  divides commonly eaten seafood into three categories that answer the title’s question: Yes, Maybe, and No.

Fish in the “Yes” category are defined as “abundant, well-managed, or caught in an environmentally-friendly way.” Seafood in the Maybe category is listed there because its sustainability depends largely on its source. And species listed in the “No” category — like the tuna pictured above — are defined as either endangered or generally captured in environmentally harmful ways.

Eco-conscious seafood aficionados looking for something a little less bulky than an infographic poster to use as a quick portable reference on fish, mollusks and crustaceans may prefer to download Seafood Watch’s own printable pocket guide to ocean-friendly seafood choices. Online guides to eco-friendlier fish fare are also available from the National Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Blue Ocean Institute.

The growing popularity of so-called sustainable seafood guides reflects an increasing awareness among consumers about how everyday food choices can impact the global environment. In March 2001, a poll sponsored by Greenpeace in Japan, the largest market for seafood in the world, found that 68% of Japanese consumers would prefer to see warning labels on seafood packaging for threatened or endangered species; an April poll by the World Wildlife Fund found that more than 8 out of 10 Europeans would prefer to buy only sustainably harvested seafood. A WWF poll in Canada, released this June, found that 91% of Canadians feel that seafood should come from sustainable sources.

In response to this global call from consumers for more sustainable seafood choices, in March, major U.S. food retailer Costco said it would stop selling 12 species of fish that environmental groups have identified as threatened by overfishing. That same month in Australia, the Woolworths supermarket chain started selling fish with a sustainable seafood certification from the Marine Stewardship Council.

All this is evidence that environmental groups like Seafood Watch and the World Wildlife Fund have recently made great progress in educating the public about the threat overfishing poses to both the delicate ecological balance of the world’s oceans and the future of the global fish supply.

But will this increased consumer interest in choosing seafood from more sustainable sources be enough to stave off an overfishing-driven ecological disaster in the seas?

Related Care2 Stories:

Is Seafood Sustainable? Part II: The Overfishing Crisis

Is Seafood Sustainable? Part III: How to Save the Ocean

Why Ending Overfishing Pays Off in the Long Run

Photo of Tuna Sushi by Akira Kamikura, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license. Several species of tuna are threatened by overfishing.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Fiona T.
Past Member 4 years ago

It is a win-win strategy for both the supply and demand of the food

Natasha Salgado
natasha s4 years ago

NO. Stop overfishing or they'll be no bloody fish left in our waters.

Monique D.
Mon D5 years ago

I do not eat any fish or seafood

Judith Emerson
Judith Emerson5 years ago

From an AP story heard on public radio yesterday, we can forget enjoying Gulf Coast oysters this year. Last year's BP oil spill continues to decimate Gulf Coast oysters off Louisiana & Mississippi. Then freshwater from the spring floods along the Mississippi River further damaged those oyster beds. Now Texas' drought has destroyed the oysters along our long coastline.

Miranda Lyon
Miranda Lyon5 years ago

My husband's parents and sister have live at the North Carolina coast. So much of the seafood his father caught fresh and they used to enjoy...and depend upon as a regular part of their now too effected by pollution to be safely eaten.

Becky Leiby
Rebeccah Leiby5 years ago

Interesting stuff, thank you!

Tiago B.
Tiago Buhr5 years ago

Nice point of view Rooibos

Rooibos Bird
IE Ries5 years ago

As usual, Bill K. succinctly sums up reality in a pointed way (thank you for mentioning the fact that our "pet" animals aren't green, either!). As I said, "sustainable" is merely a kinder, "gentler" code word for activity that is NOT necessary and NOT defensible and never will be.

Jaelithe J., I am also vegetarian and have been for 23 years - it's one of two reasons I stopped consuming other animals (the other is for humane reasons). Telling us, "I conclude that there may be no such thing as sustainable seafood" just gives others an inch to make excuses as they stuff their faces at the expense of other species. Flesh consumption is just another form of conspicuous consumption, and that has been true since our species has come into existence. We've exterminated countless species all over the world over the millennia and now that we've bent the rules to stroke our own selfishness and practice extreme overpopulation as a "right," claiming that consuming any animal is "sustainable" is merely backpedaling for time...time that other species no longer have.

Bill K.
Bill K5 years ago

There is no such thing as sustainable seafood. Some sea "life" may not quite have been as overly exploited - yet. Species once considered sustainable are today on the unsutainable list as demand for that species grew.

Sylvia Earle is one of the world's most well known oceanographers and was chief scientist for NOAA. She has said of the seafood industry "It's not a harvest. It's the commercial taking of wildlife and there's no history of this ever having been done sustainably. The idea of continuing to take hundreds of millions of tons of wildlife is inexcusable, and with these bottom trawl nets! I use the analogy of taking squirrels and rabbits out of the forest using a bulldozer."

You cannot feed 7 billion people (as well as their livestock and pets) any species of fish and not expect it to suffer a drastic population loss. Anyone who thinks they are buying sustainable fish are only kidding themselves and can expect to someday see that species added to the list of "Do Not Buy" species.