Fish and seafood with these two labels come from sustainable and well-managed fisheries. Here's what to look for.
Many seafood sellers are working to raise awareness about the need for sustainable, ecofriendly fishing and the importance of not purchasing seafood on the endangered list. That’s great, but it does have one downside: a glut of ecolabels that can make for confusion at the seafood counter. When you’re grocery shopping and you’ve forgotten your Monterey Bay Guide, look for these two labels: Marine Stewardship Council and Friend of the Sea. Fish and seafood with these labels came from certified sustainable and well-managed fisheries.
Marine Stewardship Council
The Marine Stewardship Council’s standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability meet the world's toughest best practice guidelines. With their practices and diligent efforts, they are transforming the way seafood is sourced—and helping you get the best produce for you and the Earth.
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Friend of the Sea
Friend of the Sea is a non-profit non-governmental organization (NGO) working to conserve marine habitats. Products stamped with the Friend of the Sea logo come from sustainable seafood fisheries and aquaculture where the harvesting of seafood leaves no lasting impact or damage to the surrounding environment.
How can shoppers make sense of sustainable fish labels?
Overfishing is the greatest single threat to marine life, and at least a third of the world’s key populations of fish species are currently overexploited while most of the remainder are reaching their limits. Meanwhile, climate chaos and the scourge of plastic are only adding to the oceans’ problems.
Four out of five people agree we should only eat fish that has come from sustainable sources. There is no reliable estimate for how much of the fish sold in the UK is from sustainable sources, but evidence suggests it may be a minority of the seafood we eat.
This is something we all want but identifying it can be tricky. As Paul Johnson puts it in Fish Forever ($37, amazon.com), "Choosing sustainable seafood is complicated by more factors than can be listed. Thousands of species that are caught in hundreds of ways pass through many different hands to come to market from all over the world." In practice, the easiest way to buy sustainable is to buy American, says Fick. "Buy direct from the fisherman when possible. There is nothing sustainable about shipping fish from the U.S. off to China for processing and then back to the U.S. in the form of fish sticks," he says. "Don&apost be afraid to buy frozen fish. Try off cuts like burgers, bellies, collars, steaks, and the like to use the whole fish."
Seek the Certified "Sustainable” SeafoodNicole Landry
If you shop for fish at your local grocery store, you may have noticed the blue Marine Stewardship Council label on some of the packaging. The MSC is one of the more well-known certifications for wild seafood that was caught using measures that do not harm the growth of future populations.
These labels help consumers feel better about the fish they are buying, so they are often willing to pay a higher price. Their money then goes to support fisheries that are using sustainable measures.
There’s a wealth of eco-label schemes out there. Some are developed by countries, others by nonprofits and industry bodies. Tlusty explained that different certification schemes have different goals, and target farms or fisheries at different levels of production.
Certification groups usually take one of two tacks. The first strategy is to set a gold standard, guiding consumers to seafood raised or harvested according to true best practices. The second approach aims to prompt improvements over a wider share of a sector. This method is less stringent but easier for producers to attain. National standards often adopt the second approach. This is why international benchmarks like the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative were developed to fill in the gaps.
Sustainable Seafood, Demystified
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"], "filter": < "nextExceptions": "img, blockquote, div", "nextContainsExceptions": "img, blockquote">>'> Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI)
It was just a few months ago that I was on the deck of a fishing boat, bundled up in my raingear and rubber boots, casting for longline halibut off the rocky waters of Alaska. A paltry seven fish and one weary, seasick reporter later, we called it a day.
What was exhausting for me that day is simply business as usual for fishermen and women around the world. Fisherwomen such as Claire Neaton and Emma Teal Laukitis. The two sisters, based out of Homer, Alaska, are part of a small but committed set of businesses committed to carrying on their family’s legacy of sustainable fishing. “What we’ve grown up knowing is a respect for the fish that we’re catching, and the wild resources that Alaska harvests,” says Laukitis, 26, by phone. “We think a lot about keeping this resource around us for generations, knowing that it’s sustained a lot of people and our culture and traditions.”
As second-generation fisherwomen, the sisters can work up to 14-hour days during salmon season (mid-June to late August), catching wild Alaska salmon in Prince William Sound and delivering it to port every few days. When halibut season arrives in September, they travel to the Bering Sea, switching out their nets for hooks. They work furiously until winter sets in then, it’s time to switch gears and run Salmon Sisters, their ocean-inspired business which sells lifestyle products.
When it comes to keeping sustainable seafood practices alive, the sisters say that everything they catch is recorded and used. Or, if the fish is too young and not large enough to harvest, it will be discarded back into the water.
Photo by Scott Dickerson
“You’re feeding the world a superfood,” says Neaton, 27. “It’s neat to be able to completely stand up for and understand the entire process between this beautiful fish coming out of the ocean and how it reaches a consumer’s plate.”
As the only state with a mandate for sustainable seafood written into its constitution, Alaska is king when it comes to wild seafood, supplying more than half of all wild-caught seafood in the United States. Its pristine Pacific waters are home to an abundant population of salmon, halibut, cod, crab, weathervane scallops, spot prawns and more. Off the state’s coastline, you’ll find more than 40 Marine Protected Areas which cover nearly a million square nautical miles and have enforced sustainable fishing practices and a number of governmental protection acts in place—including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act—to ensure enough catch remains for the future. Since wild seafood is one of the state’s most precious resources, Alaska is willing to go to extremes to protect its long-term sustainability—a focus since its statehood became official in 1959.
Photo courtesy of ASMI
Globally, the term “sustainable seafood” is used more broadly. It refers to the practice of catching or farming fish and shellfish in a manner that will maintain or increase production in the long term without harming the health of the species, the ocean and the surrounding eco-systems. Leaders in sustainability beyond Alaska’s waters include the Philippines, Barbados, Norway, South Korea and Iceland. However, there are still other parts of world, and other United States’ coastlines, that maintain sustainable practices for some—but not all—species.
With fish arriving at your supermarket from multiple countries and with differing labels, it can be confusing to know what’s really sustainable. Several non-profit organizations have stepped in to make it easier—and to keep commercial fisheries accountable. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) have designated rating systems and labels to help consumers make the right shopping choices for each species, which takes into consideration the overall ecosystem as well as management regulations (including the catch method and overall supply for wild waste treatment and discharge for farmed). The MSC offers a blue label, designating sustainably caught wild fish or seafood that’s up to its standards. Seafood Watch has a handy free app which uses a color-coded system to label fish for consumption: green for “Best Choice, orange for “Good Alternative,” and red for “Avoid.”
When in doubt, Neaton and Laukitis advise turning to your fishmonger for details. He or she should always know the origin of the fish on display.
Sustainable Canned Seafood Brands:
Depending on where you live, canned can be a better option than fresh—and sometimes the only sustainable choice. Here are several companies approved by the MSC:
Wild Planet Foods
Ocean Wise Recommended
This black and white label from Ocean Wise means that the seafood has been recommended as a sustainable choice because it meets Ocean Wise’s strict criteria. Ocean Wise only recommends seafood that is abundant, resilient to fishing pressures, well managed, and harvested in ways that limit damage to the environment through methods that ensure limited bycatch.
Next time you’re buying seafood in Winn Dixie, Walmart or your other favorite grocer, keep an eye out for this valuable certification.
If You Want to Promote Animal Welfare
When it comes to meat, eggs, and dairy, things grow ever more complicated. From cage-free to free-range, grass-fed to vegetarian, it seems that meat and, particularly, egg labels have tons of indications that the animals that participated in the creation of a product you&aposre buying were happy as can be.
Unfortunately, many of these terms (not to mention images of frolicking chickens) can be misleading and are not regulated. If animal welfare is important, here&aposs what you should look for.
Whereas USDA Certified Organic is, in many ways, the gold standard for crops, it&aposs not quite as meaningful when it comes to animal welfare. Organic meat has minimum standards for pasturing and requires that all feed be certified organic and non-GMO, but if animal welfare is really what you&aposre looking for, there are far better labels.
Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World is the gold standard in welfare labels. The only USDA-approved third-party animal welfare food certification label, this certificate supports family farmers who pasture their animals and transport and slaughter humanely.
Other humane standards to swear by include Global Animal Partnership (Steps 4, 5, and 6), which prohibits feedlots and requires access to pasture for all animas. Standards also cover physical alterations and the treatment of animals during transport and slaughter.
There are also a few meaningless label terms out there. These include cage-free for meat, as birds in the U.S. are not caged before slaughter.
Cage-free for eggs is meaningful though as of 2015, most birds in the U.S. are not raised in battery cages. And it bears mentioning that while cage-free evokes pasture-raised, many cage-free egg-laying hens are actually raised in indoor barns with small outdoor porches where animals cannot scratch or actually walk around pasture. Instead, seek out Certified Humane Pasture-Raised Eggs, the gold standard of humane standards for egg-laying hens.
Other meaningless labels for animal welfare include: Ethically Raised, Responsibly Raised, Thoughtfully Raised, Humanely Raised, No Added Hormones, Omega-3 Enriched, and Vegetarian Fed.
Basically, if the package is telling you something without certifying it, you can&apost believe it. And in some cases, you can&apost believe it even if it&aposs certified. United Egg Producers Certified is one such meaningless label, developed by and for the egg industry. This is not a third-party or independent label and allows hens to be crowded into small, dark areas for their entire lives.
TUESDAY: Reconsider Your Meal Kit
Do you get mail-order meal kits from companies like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh? The insulated boxes include enough portioned and prepped ingredients to quickly whip up a meal for two or four.
With these boxes, you don’t need to shop or plan and there often isn’t much food waste at meal-time. But the ingredients are often wrapped in lots of plastic. We dug deep in our article “Are Meal Kits Recipes for Fun, or Waste?” and determined a good/better/best of all the plans we could find, including organic meal-kit options.
Idea for meal kit dinner: Meal kit companies often post fun recipes online for free, so you can save money by buying the ingredients yourself.
10 Things You Can Do for the Ocean this World Oceans Day
Looking out for our oceans has never been this important. If you’ve watched the latest Netflix documentary, Seaspiracy, you’ll know that our impact on the ocean is dire. The film brought up everything from animal cruelty to ocean pollution, and it was tough to watch.
But before we resign to the idea that making the world a better place is impossible, we should take a collective deep breath. There are many small actions that we can take here.
Here are 10 simple things you can do every day, because all our contributions matter.
1 Try To Eat Less Seafood
Cutting back or eliminating seafood from your diet is a big one. A reduction in seafood as a protein source will have a massively positive impact on the oceans. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, a third of commercial fish stocks are being depleted at unsustainable levels. Ninety percent have been fully exploited. As the demand for fish increases, ocean supplies are becoming depleted more quickly and ecosystems are being radically disrupted. An easy solution is to swap out fish for vegetarian versions of your favourite seafood. Our vegan fish alternative, Fry’s Fish-Style Fillets, are a great option, or for another vegan seafood option, try our Battered Prawn-Style Pieces. These are doubly good for the ocean because we’re donating all the proceeds of our vegan seafood range to Sea Shepherd from May till October 2021.
2 Reduce Your Energy Consumption
The ocean has absorbed 90% of the excess heat created by burning fossil fuels in the last half-century. Our beautiful blue has been working overtime for us. Sadly though this means that waters are warmer which is affecting where fish swim and their reproduction cycles. It’s also wreaking havoc on our sea levels which in turn creates more natural disasters on land. You can make a change by being conscious of your energy use at home and work using public transport (or walking or riding your bike to work) switching to fluorescent light bulbs turning off lights when they’re not needed and unplugging electronics.
3 Watch Out for Greenwashing
Some labels are trustworthy and helpful, while others are misleading and are just there to create a false sense of security. For example, on its own, the word “sustainable” means very little and looking for reputable certifications to ensure the food you buy is sustainable is critical. This is true for all food, not just fish. Learn more about how to spot greenwashing here.
4 Try Going Plant-Based
A surprising fact is that pigs, chickens and cows are the world’s leading oceanic predators. The waste runoff of livestock operations on land have caused more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones in the oceans. Animal agriculture is also responsible for more greenhouse gasses than the entire transport industry combined. Our appetite for meat is affecting the temperature and cleanliness of our waters. Buying more sustainable products like plant-based fish or seafood, helps keep them on shelf, thereby giving others people considering change the option too. This is a powerful step you can take to be an advocate for change.
5 Use Less Plastic
The more plastic we use, the more plastic ends up in the ocean. It is estimated by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. Interestingly the main source of ocean plastic pollution is not plastic straws but is actually fishing lines. (See Step #1 and #4. Plant-based fish alternatives remove the need for fishing lines). As much as possible, reduce and reuse, and then recycle! We’ve been ditching the plastic inners in many of our product boxes and have a plan in action that is moving us towards 96% recyclable or recycled packaging by the end of 2021.
6 Take Care of the Beach
Whether you are relaxing on the beach, surfing or diving, always clean up after yourself. Respect the ocean by not interfering with wildlife or removing rocks and coral. Participate in or organise local beach clean ups. Pick up what you find no matter how big or small. Neglected, light-weight debris will be blown into the sea.
7 Read Labels Carefully and Educate Yourself
Don’t purchase items that exploit marine life and choose ocean-friendly products. There are many products on the market that harm fragile coral reefs and marine populations. Avoid purchasing coral jewellery, tortoiseshell hair accessories, cosmetics containing shark squalene and other shark product, as well as fish tank accessories which are often sourced from fragile coastal ecosystems. Don’t buy fish as pets either and take a strong stance against keeping exotic species in captivity.
8 Support Organisations That Protect the Ocean
There are many local and global organisations that are fighting to protect ocean habitats and marine wildlife, like the brave people of Sea Shepherd. Consider giving financial support or volunteering for hands-on advocacy. We hope to raise about $15 000 for them in the next 6-months through the global sales of our Fish-Style Fillets and Battered Prawn-Style Pieces (both are available through your local retailers). We’ve been working with Sea Shepherd for years, and truly believe that they are ocean warriors and that they will do so much with this money for our beautiful ocean.
9 Be the Change in Your Community
One person can make a difference! Start beach cleanups, ask restaurants and supermarkets to offer more plant-based and fish-free options. Speak up if you notice threatened species on the menu or seafood counter. Take some time to research the ocean policies of government officials before casting your vote. An easy way to make a huge difference is cooking plant-based meals for friends and family to show them how delicious they can be. Have a look at our recipes to get some inspiration.
10 Share your knowledge with others
Inspire friends and family to watch Seaspiracy, post plant-based seafood recipes on your own social media pages and share interesting facts. Be the inspiration for someone else’s change!