When deciding which grocery store to shop at, many people consider prices, food quality, and value. Some of the more privileged of us also consider organic, GMO-free options, or cruelty free products. But when it comes to buying seafood, what is the most responsible and sustainable choice to make?
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), 77% of wild fish stocks are either fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted. Many fisheries have had to close because of such stark declines in fish stocks. One of the most famous examples of this is the Cod fishery off of the coast of New Foundland Canada that closed in 1993 and still has not recovered. Global fish consumption, however, continues to rise. It is a primary source of protein for many countries, but is particularly important in many developing nations such as the Bahamas and the Philippines. American trends are mirroring global trends and are also increasing rapidly. When you buy seafood at a grocery store you are told where it was caught and whether or not it is wild caught or farm raised, but it isn’t labeled as sustainable or not. So how do we eat and buy responsibly in a market with very unclear labeling? In 2013, Greenpeace conducted a study looking at all of the species of seafood sold at a number of popular American grocery stores. They then rated them on a scale from 1 to 10 based on how sustainably caught the seafood sold in their store is.
What does it really mean to be sustainably caught? For seafood to be sustainably caught, it must be a species that is not considered endangered or at risk of becoming endangered. It also must have been caught legally which implies that it must be large enough and within the allowable quota for that fish stock. It must also have been caught with very little bycatch. Bycatch is unintended species caught or killed during commercial fishing. The accidental capture of turtles, sharks, dolphins, and even birds is more common than you may think.
What can we do to make a difference? As college students, we often want to get behind these causes and help out, but usually don’t have a lot of money to make a difference. If you notice, there are stores like Trader Joes, Target, and Price Chopper on the upper half of this score card which are near us. If we continue down the path that we are currently on of consuming unsustainably caught fish, we may completely overexploit our oceans and continue unnecessarily sacrificing unintended species. Luckily, we live in a country in which we have food source options and a place where supply will meet demand. If we create a demand for more sustainably caught seafood, we may be able to make change in the market and turn our food systems around!