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What is Sustainable Seafood?

With concerns about our impact on the environment making headlines, many consumers are switching their eating habits toward a more eco-conscious diet. Switching to sustainable seafood is an easy way to positively impact the environment while eating healthfully. However, it can be hard to understand what a “sustainable” label really means and what the requirements are for seafood to meet that standard.

Why Are We More Aware of the Seafood We’re Eating?

In the past two decades, populations of cod, yellowtail flounder, bluefin tuna, and other common species of fish have shown severe decline, leading to the collapse of industries and a near-loss of wild populations. Over-fishing depletes our marine ecosystems and reduces the sustainability of seafood as a solution to world hunger.

Much like the term “natural,” the “sustainable” label doesn’t have a specific, government-backed meaning. However, organizations such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and Oceana provide detailed information about practices and species that promote biodiversity and an increase in marine populations across the globe.

Sustainable practices include only fishing in populations that are “healthy and abundant,” fishing only to sustainable levels, “minimizing bycatch” (impact on populations other than what is being caught—think “dolphin-safe tuna”), not endangering species that are already threatened, and managing the long-term productivity of all impacted species. You can read about this in greater detail in the Seafood Watch Standard for Fisheries 2017.

How Can You Choose Better Seafood?

Because of public demand, many companies have committed to providing sustainably caught seafood to consumers, shifting from reckless practices to ways that don’t harm the environment.

The best way to know that you’re consuming sustainable seafood is to look for terms like “line-caught” or “wild-caught.” This means that the seafood came from its natural habitat and was not raised in a potentially damaging fish hatchery or farm. If you’re not sure about a label, ask someone at the fish counter—find out where and how the fish was caught and if those practices are eco-friendly.

The location of origin is one of the most important and best ways to determine the sustainability of seafood.

The most important step consumers can take is to become aware of our impact and start making small changes to the type of fish we put on our plates—those small changes will add up to make a big difference to the health of our oceans, seafood populations, and our planet.

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