Is Seafood Sustainable? Part III: How to Save the Ocean
As outlined in the two previous posts in this series, public awareness of the global overfishing crisis is on the rise, and polls show a growing number of seafood consumers are thinking more carefully about how to make more sustainable choices, using sustainable seafood guides provided by environmental groups and asking seafood retailers for better labeling detailing where and how seafood is harvested.
But at the same time, global consumption of fish has hit record levels, and the oceans are paying the price as popular food species are threatened with extinction by overfishing and fishing-driven habitat loss.
Though threatened ocean species certainly benefit from consumers choosing to eat another, more plentiful species instead, if everyone on the planet decides tomorrow to eat, say, sardines — a plentiful species — instead of highly threatened tuna, but the world keeps consuming seafood at today’s unsustainable rate, eventually, sardines will be a threatened species, too.
Some believe aquaculture — fish farming — may be the answer to supplying global demand for one of the world’s healthiest protein source without devastating the ocean. Care2 blogger Cathryn Wellner examined the arguments for and against increased aquaculture as a solution to the problem of overfishing earlier this month.
Proponents of aquaculture argue that an increase in fish farming will both relieve pressure on wild fish populations and prevent damaging fishing methods like bottom trawling from destroying wild ocean habitats.
But in practice, large scale fish farms have often been shown to put ocean wildlife at risk — by polluting the water with concentrated areas of fish waste, by encouraging the proliferation, through overcrowding, of diseases that can later spread to wild populations of fish and by competing with wild fish populations for resources — farmed fish are generally fed fish meal, which is made from the same species of prey fish that predatory fish and sharks hunt in the wild.
A 2009 report by the environmental advocacy group Oceana found that the capture of prey species like anchovies and sardines for fish meal production is causing malnutrition and slowed growth among threatened and endangered predator species like Pacific salmon and blue fin tuna.
To help address these issues, several environmental organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace, are now working with fish farmers to create and promote sustainable aquaculture practices.
But until aquaculture becomes more sustainable, those who care seriously about helping the world’s oceans recover from overfishing should do more than consider where seafood comes from, or how it was harvested. Consider eating seafood only rarely, or not at all.
Photo of fish shoal by Richard Wheeler, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license. Photo of salmon at market by Jeremy Keith, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license.