Worldwide demand for seafood is rising rapidly. Consequently, most fish companies maximize what they pull from the sea with little concern for long-term fish stocks. Thirty-two percent of fisheries are at or above their maximum sustainable yield and only a third of fisheries are harvested at levels that allow fish populations to replenish (FAO 2016). As a result, a shocking percentage of the world’s fisheries are now in decline. If left unchecked, some say this could ultimately result in stocks vanishing altogether by 2048 (Biello 2006).
However, as consumers, we have the power to halt this and elicit change; because of the way the market operates, fish companies will respond to consumer demand. The most powerful, and simple way, we as individuals can help save our seas is by changing our eating habits: choosing wisely, choosing less, and choosing alternatives.
Be selective with the type of seafood you consume. For example, go for oysters, clams, mussels, or scallops instead of cod, tuna or salmon. Not only does eating shellfish over large fish species reduce pressure on overfished stocks, it also reduces bycatch (the process where other species get caught accidently). For a detailed database on sustainable options, visit a site such as the American NOAA Fish Watch; https://www.fishwatch.gov/?_ga=2.99936670.1262894487.1576038444-1539776933.1576038444. The Marine Conservation Society in the UK also regularly updates a list of fish to avoid and fish that are fine to eat. Visit https://www.mcsuk.org. Meanwhile, the SRA (Sustainable Restaurant Association) helps its members to source ingredients ethically, so if you’re eating out, check its database first at https://thesra.org.
Don’t be fooled into thinking wild-caught is always best; imports to meet the growing demand can mean it’s not always more sustainable than farmed. Instead, it’s best to choose local seafood wherever possible. For example, sardines and pilchard are abundant in the seas off the coast of Cornwall while sea bream and sea bass are available in the English Channel. Not only will this benefit the environment, it also helps support local fishermen and is usually cheaper. Markets and fishmongers offer a wider and fresher variety of locally sourced fish than supermarkets. Indeed, these are the best sources of information on what’s in season and how the fish has been caught. Most good fishmongers will source their fish from sustainable fisheries and will be able to recommend different species to try.
Ideally, try to reduce the amount of fish you consume overall. Simply buying less fish or ordering it less often could go a long way in reducing the amount of fish we take out of the ocean. You could even make the switch to plant-based products to sidestep seafood altogether! Not only will this be the best option for our oceans, but you can also avoid the heavy metals (for example mercury) sometimes found in fish (Dallingeret al. 1987).
The possibility that fisheries could disappear altogether in the next 40 years means it’s time for us to act. Fish remains one of the world’s most popular foods; it’s therefore unrealistic to expect everyone to stop eating it, instantly. However, following the above tips may go some way to ensure the seafood you eat comes without a side order of guilt.
Biello, D., 2006. Overfishing could take seafood off the menu by 2048. Scientific American, November, 2.
Dallinger, R., Prosi, F., Segner, H. and Back, H., 1987. Contaminated food and uptake of heavy metals by fish: a review and a proposal for further research. Oecologia, 73(1), pp.91-98.
FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation). 2016. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016. Contributing to food security and nutrition for all. Rome.200 pp.