Josh Laughren: Choosing sustainable seafood will help ensure oceans remain healthy

By Josh Laughren

Many of us are concerned about making good choices when it comes to our health and the health of our planet. This means making informed choices, including about our food choices—and specifically seafood.

On average, Canadians each consume 6.6 kilograms of seafood annually. That’s the equivalent of 29 seafood dinners, 39 lunches, 78 appetizers, or 233 hors d’oeuvres per person. Each of us can help by being an informed consumer.

What is sustainable seafood?

Sustainable seafood comes from fish and shellfish that are harvested in a responsible way that helps ensure our oceans, and the ecosystems that depend on them, remain healthy and thriving for years to come. To bring sustainable choices to market, fishers, seafood companies, retailers, and consumers must work together to develop, promote, and reward the best environmental choices in seafood.

Why is this important?

Over a billion people rely on the oceans for protein. As fish stocks around the world show increasing signs of collapse, we risk not just an ecological crisis, but a humanitarian one. Overfishing has been the major driver of the global decline in marine biodiversity.

Most of the world’s commercial marine fisheries are either fully exploited or overexploited. Simply put, we’ve been taking more out of our oceans than they have to give.

When it comes to eating seafood, each of us is in a driver’s seat. Individually and collectively we can each take simple actions that will go a long way toward reversing this serious marine decline.

How do we do it?

1. Look for labels. The Marine Stewardship Council is an organization that certifies seafood that has been harvested using sustainable environmental practices. Products with the MSC seal of approval will have its logo displayed on the packaging. The MSC logo is a blue and white fish whose tail and back resemble a check mark. (Find out more at MSC’s Web site.)

2. Choose. There are over 2,500 MSC-labelled products on sale around the world, and that’s growing every year. Many retailers and restaurants are waking up to the growing concern about global fish stocks, and are beginning to actively source and promote seafood from sustainable sources. For example, this year, Loblaw Companies Limited ambitiously committed to source all seafood sold in its retail locations from sustainable sources by the end of 2013. The commitment covers all canned, frozen, fresh, wild, and farmed seafood products, in all categories.

3. Ask your grocery store and at restaurants if they have any commitments to source seafood from sustainable sources. Asking for it demonstrates demand to suppliers and signals this is important.

Ultimately, governments, fishing companies, communities, and retailers will all have to work together to protect and restore the health of our oceans. A strong consumer demand for sustainable choices can serve as a catalyst to spur action and reward progress.

Become a part of the solution today and make informed choices about the seafood you buy and encourage friends and family to do the same.

Josh Laughren is the director of communications for the World Wildlife Fund Canada.