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Fish Conundrum

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Fish Conundrum

Let’s talk about fish. Sustainable fish.

The scourge of industrial meat, and its horrific implications for animal welfare, environmental protection and human health, have been dissected and exposed for years for everyone to see. Although people still buy antibiotics-stuffed bacon and corn-fed beef out of convenience, habit or taste, noone by now has been sheltered from the public debate about grass-fed (or, even better, “pasture-raised”) v. CAFO meat.

The plight of the oceans’ residents, by contrast, has remained hidden from view. All of us have heard time and time again that 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline, and know about the damaging impact of pollution (especially mercury) and of warming temperatures on wild fish. But unless we’ve been touched by a personal close encounter in the wild or in a well-staged exhibit (the Monterey Bay Aquarium comes to mind), this general knowledge has had little ripple effect on our consuming habits.

In fact, if a recent consumer survey in the United Kingdom is any indication, 70 percent of shoppers claim that buying sustainable fish is important, but only 30 percent say that they are “actively” seeking sustainable fish—which translates into an unknown, yet assumed-to-be much lower score at the cash register.

Among the barriers to actively-seeking-sustainable-fish, habit weighs in for 24 percent, in equal amount to the price premium factor, according to “Attitudes and Behaviours around Sustainable Food Purchasing”, a report published this month by the U.K.’s Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

However, I was somewhat encouraged to learn that for almost one shopper in two, ignorance of the existence of certification labels for sustainable fish[1], and lack of availability at the local store, are the main barriers to purchase. On top of that, 84 percent of all respondents agree that retailers bear a big share of the responsibility, and should ensure that the fish they sell is from sustainable stocks.

If these stats accurately reflect reality, it means that not only better consumer education could make a difference, but that retailers and their suppliers may want to look at the budding market opportunity within their reach: certified sustainable fish that is loudly advertised as such.

Now, here is some good news: both governments and retailers are finally beginning to heed consumers’ sentiment.

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Laetitia Mailhes

Laetitia Mailhes is a French-born journalist. After many years as the technology and innovation correspondent of the French "Financial Times" in San Francisco, she decided to focus on what truly matters to her: sustainable food and farming. Find more articles and videos on her blog, The Green Plate Blog.


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9:46AM PDT on Apr 18, 2011

jeez do we gotta ruin everything? even the fish

10:20AM PDT on Apr 15, 2011


8:39PM PDT on Apr 14, 2011

Agree with Ernie :)

4:21PM PDT on Apr 14, 2011

Of course this would be a good idea. Shopping is difficult enough without stopping up the aisles while consulting the lists to see if this fish was sustainable. Very practical and would help a lot.

6:32AM PDT on Apr 14, 2011

One can prey for the Noah's Arc syndrome where 2 of each spieces manages to hide from man untill after we have killed ourselves off so they can rebuild in some fashion it would be best if we just find a way to do ourselves in quick.

11:01PM PDT on Apr 13, 2011

i don`t know if these tags are used in our stores because i avoid the meat department, it makes me feel sick

9:54PM PDT on Apr 13, 2011

We must advocate marine protected areas where endangered fish swim and fishing is completely banned.

9:21PM PDT on Apr 13, 2011

I'm vegetarian but my boyfriend isn't, so I try to by more ethically produced meat for him. I found the "Marine Stewardship Council Certified Sustainable Seafood" logo on some hoki at Aldi, and bought it and patted myself on the back. Later I checked the Australian Marine Conservation Society's Sustainable Seafood Guide, and they have Hoki down as "Red" ("don't buy"). And don't get me started on trying to pick fish at a market, wondering how and where it was caught or farmed, or even which species it is. I do really try to only buy sustainable seafood, but the absence of labelling and information makes it hard.

1:58PM PDT on Apr 13, 2011

no comment

1:46PM PDT on Apr 13, 2011

seems like good news. thanks!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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