Is Seafood Sustainable? Part I: Demand for Eco-Friendly Seafood Grows
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?
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Photo of Tuna Sushi by Akira Kamikura, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license. Several species of tuna are threatened by overfishing.