How does one eat seafood the sustainable way? You start by making mindful decisions when choosing fish at the market, cooking at home, and dining at restaurants. With a little more understanding of how to source the seafood you eat, you can enjoy the taste and the health benefits of seafood without depleting fish species for future generations to enjoy. And with the help of a Seafood Watch guide designed by Monterey Bay Aquarium, you can be mindful in a minute! Simply key in the seafood you want to purchase and you will get your answers about what your options are. You can also download the Seafood Watch App to your phone, and get tips while dining out. This is an easy step towards learning to Eat the Eco-Flexitarian Way!
What is Sustainable Seafood?
Wild-caught seafood is a source of protein and micronutrients, harvested from the ocean. In order to be sustainable, these populations must be taken at a rate and quantity that allows for them to naturally replenish and renew. It becomes unsustainable when humans take more than can naturally be replaced. Being mindful of your choices will ensure that you and others can enjoy that same meal in the future. Read Learning tips about Sustainable Seafood 101 for more ways to make sustainable choices.
Seafood Watch shares the three pillars to sustainability: environmental protection, social responsibility and economic viability. All of these components are important to ensuring that the fisheries and aquaculture we rely on for food and livelihoods thrive into the future. Sustainable seafood
- Environmental protection is wild or farmed seafood that is harvested in ways that don't harm the environment or other wildlife — helping to ensure healthy and resilient ocean ecosystems
- Social responsibility ensures fair, safe working conditions for the people who produce our seafood.
- Economic Viability is when businesses demand sustainable seafood, it is profitable for the fishermen and farmers that produce seafood in environmentally and socially responsible ways.
Support to Reduce Seafood Waste
According to WRI, around one-third of seafood is either lost or wasted. Much of seafood loss occurs during processing when a large proportion of the fish remains unused — the skin, bones and fish heads are often discarded. Known as by- or co-products, these parts can represent between 30% to 70% of the fish.
To maximize the nutrition and value of seafood for all, 100% of the fish must be utilized — and it is arguably an ethical imperative, not just an economic one. Learn about Reducing Seafood Waste and Loss from World Resource Institute and support organizations that work hard to improve upon this.
Seafood is a Healthy Choice of Protein
Eating fish can be a healthy choice for you and the planet when done so the right way. It is low in fat, high in protein, and rich in vitamins and minerals, like selenium, vitamin D, and B vitamins. Plus, seafood is the premier dietary source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
And, as you can see in the chart below from WRI, it is a better alternative to meat, dairy, soy and nuts when it comes to GHG emissions per gram of protein.
According to WRI, wild-caught fish feed and grow on their own, thus they have the lowest emissions among animal proteins. Commercial fishing emissions mostly come from boat fuel burned to go fish, so the carbon impact of seafood depends on the species being caught. For example, shrimp and lobster have higher carbon emissions because boats have to constantly stop and start to place/collect traps. Salmon have much lower emissions as they are easy to harvest and found relatively close to shore.
Should you be concerned about Mercury in Seafood?
Mercury is a natural element found in very small quantities in the air, water, soil, and all living things. During the past decade, there has been concern over mercury levels in seafood and general confusion about what is safe to eat. Vary the seafood that you eat, and as with anything, too much of the same thing every day can be bad for you.
While all seafood has small amounts of mercury, the benefits of eating seafood have been shown to outweigh the risks. The mercury levels in seafood vary widely and most species generally have less than one-tenth of the U.S. established guideline for the allowable level of mercury in fish and seafood products.
NOAA - NOAA Fisheries Seafood Inspection Program, which is part of the Department of Commerce, is a voluntary, fee-for-service program that works with other agencies to provide science-based inspection services to the seafood industry to ensure safe, high-quality seafood.
Tips for Buying Seafood at your Local Fish Store or Supermarket
Finding a quality seafood market can be a hit-or-miss experience if you don't know what to look for. If the fish isn't fresh or appropriately stored, the seafood counter, freezer or market will smell fishy. That's the first signal to shop somewhere else. Fresh seafood should smell like the ocean - not sour or fishy! Here are a few other tips:
- Don't be shy to ask your fishmonger a few questions - what's the latest catch? was this previously frozen? is it wild or farmed? where is it sourced from and how?
- Look at the eyes of the fish - are they cloudy or sunken? Whole fish should have bright, clear, full eyes that are often protruding and gills that are bright red or pink.
- Don't accept select pieces of fish with brown or yellowish discoloration around the edges of fish fillets and steaks, especially if the edges appear dry or mushy.
- Whole fish or fish fillets should generally have firm, shiny flesh. If they have been previously frozen, they may not look as shiny, but they are still good to eat.
- If not certain of how fresh the fish is, you can request the fish to be rinsed under cold water. If it still smells fishy or ammonia like, it isn't fresh.
- Look for seafood that is properly iced and refrigerated or frozen.
What Labels should I look for when Purchasing Seafood?
The Marine Stewardship Council is another great informational guide for sustainable fish. The blue MSC label will only be applied to wild fish or seafood from fisheries that have been certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard, a set of requirements for sustainable fishing.
MSC is the most-recognized global, wild fishery certification to offer ocean to plate traceability through supply chain certification – which is assessed by independent, third-party auditors It can sometimes take years of hard work to improve before a fishery can even become MSC certified. And even when a fishery gains certification, it is only the start of the journey. Every year, assessors carry out surveillance reports to check on progress and re-assess fisheries every five years.
Tips for Ordering Seafood Online
There are many companies that deliver fresh sustainably caught seafood right to your doorstep. Research for ones that are following the guidelines for sustainability. If there is no mention of it on the website, you can always email them with specific questions about your concerns.
Sustainable Seafood Decisions when Dining Out
You can choose fish sustainably when dining out, especially with some knowledge beforehand. Our best recommendation is, look at the menu online before dining out. Narrow down your choices while you are at home utilizing some of the resources mentioned in this post. When ordering, don't hesitate to ask your server questions about your seafood. If dining at a reputable restaurant, the staff is educated on the ingredients beforehand. If they aren't knowledgeable, they will usually volunteer to ask the chef. If you are uncomfortable with the reply, simply order something else on the menu!