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A Guide For Sustainable Fish Eating

Holy Shrimp! This scampi happening? Are we running out of fish?

As a climate-conscious omnivore and self-proclaimed food lover, navigating the world of meat, dairy and seafood can sometimes be daunting. It often feels like an uphill battle.

The other week at work, my co-worker, who is a life-long vegetarian and diver said to me 'I don't understand divers that eat seafood, it's like eating your colleagues.'

Her disgust at the food that typically makes my head swim with visions of XO pippies, plump fresh prawns, glistening oysters and delicate mud crab forced my moral-o-dometer into a panic.

How is what I'm about to eat going to affect the planet? Was I justifying eating fish easier than I do animals, purely because they're so different to me? Are fishing and agriculture just as environmentally harmful as each other?

Seafood has forever been a tricky topic in the world of sustainability; for starters nearly one-fifth of the world's population, which accounts for roughly 1.2 billion people, depend on the ocean as their primary source of protein, more often than not in developing countries.

Read Next: The Three Biggest Threats The Ocean Faces (And How You Can Help!)

When you couple that statistic with the fact that over 852 million people on this planet don't have enough to eat, and the fact that the UN has projected that by the year 2050 the world's population will go up by 3 billion people, then our consumption starts to become a scary, world-altering crisis.

When it comes to being a responsible omnivore, the biggest lesson I've learnt is to drastically cut down. If we're serious about meeting the climate change goals set at the 2015 Paris Summit, in order to slow the world warming, we need to be cutting meat consumption down by 50% globally.

And when it comes to fish and seafood, the need to drastically cut consumption is ever more present.

Image Source: Australia's sustainable seafood guide

85% of fish caught globally, is used for human consumption. The rest is pulped up and converted into 'fishmeal'.

Fishmeal is a high protein powder. The fish are pulped then dehydrated , And the 'fishmeal' is then fed to pigs and chicken which- you guessed it- end up on your dinner plate.

Our global fishing fleet is 2.5 times larger than what the oceans can sustainably support. Meaning that humans are taking more than double the fish that can be naturally replaced in the ocean. That alone is a staggering fact.

Scientists have projected that if humans don't act now to drastically decrease our demand for seafood that we will have completely run out of aqua life by 2048.

With this in mind how can we sustainably consume seafood?

Cut down

If you're lucky enough to live in a country where seafood is a luxury and a choice, limit your intake. Have it on special occasions. The problem with anything 'cheap' is normally its costing us more elsewhere.

Think 'cheap' fashion with workers suffering dangerous, deadly conditions, and a staggering 13.1 million tonnes of clothing ending up in landfill each year.

The same applies to that two-dollar tuna salmon roll from your local sushi shop. It might not smell fishy, but when the fish has been sourced from fishy fisheries, with fishy practices your lunch is contributing to the complete extinction of an entire ecosystem.

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Choose well

A good rule of thumb, stay close to home. Ocean to plate tractability should be a high priority.

Do the research. Find out who's supplying what, and where it comes from, in your local area. Stick to what you know and only eat fish that you've been able to sufficiently trace. Depending on where you live, figure out if certain species are more environmentally sound farmed or fished. For example, here in Australia, eat more farmed barramundi over wild caught barramundi.

Read more: Some people think oysters are a vegan food, here's why.

The rule of thumb changes country to country, city to city and ocean to ocean, so you'll need to do the homework for your locality.

Image source: Marine Stewardship Council

Learn to say no

There are certain species of fish that we should not be eating. Would you eat a 500-year-old elephant? No, you wouldn't, so don't eat a 400 kilo (900 pounds) yellow fin tuna.

Fish like tuna, groupers, snapper and jewfish take years to grow. They're swimming pieces of history and the more we fish them, the less opportunity they have to grow and breed more.

Read Next: Why eating offal isn't awful, its an environmental statement

The demand for seafood in the western world has driven the fishing industry to great lengths in order to meet demand, it is no longer uncommon for fisheries to be catching fish that are too small and young, often before they're older enough to reproduce.

Be aware of marketing

When people start to catch onto endangered fish species the demand tends to go down, which for global fishing countries is not good. So what do they do? They change the name.

Shark is a great example; people weren't comfortable with eating sharks (perhaps because they could eat us back) so the meat of sharks was remarketed as 'Flake' commonly sold at your local fish and chip shop.

Ever wondered what Jewish is? The fish is called mulloway. Due to overfishing the popular dinner plate fish has been on the brink of extinction for some time now.

There are so many factors that contribute to sustainable fishing.

There is the farmed vs. wild caught debate, the idea of eating at the lowest end of the food chain and are certain fish we just shouldn't eat.

There is also push to put bans on different species once they reach low levels in our seas.

Knowing which fish to eat and which to avoid can seem like a daunting task. Questions, information and research are your friend.

Even if you're not 100% sure, look out for the Marine Stewardship Council's stamp of approval, which can be found on seafood products globally. The strict certification process they implement means you can be sure that the fish you're buying is as sustainable as possible.

Read Next: Under the microscope: Food certification and labelling


Paloma Brierley Newton Former Content Creator Suggest an article Send us an email

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