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Thursday, February 29, 2024
HomeSeafoodA Seafood Shopper's Information to Environmental Sustainability

A Seafood Shopper’s Information to Environmental Sustainability

Seafood Shopper

I’ve labored within the seafood business since 2011 and have been learning and assessing seafood merchandise for environmental sustainability since 2013. I now work for FishWise, a non-profit sustainable seafood consultancy that gives steerage and sources for corporations to develop and implement complete sustainable seafood packages. At FishWise, I’m on the enterprise engagement staff, the place I assist assess and suggest sustainable seafood merchandise to a number of the largest retailers in North America. 

A standard query I hear from family and friends is: how do I purchase sustainable seafood? Previously, I’ve responded with a number of sensible concerns for the grocery retailer, or ideas for purchasing domestically landed species when in season. However just lately, that query has include an added skepticism, partly because of a current Netflix movie, Seaspiracy, that controversially concluded, “there isn’t any such factor as sustainable seafood.”

This declare is empirically unfaithful and was comprehensively refuted by nearly each knowledgeable within the sustainable seafood house following the movie’s launch. However viewers of the movie at the moment are extra confused than ever about which seafoods are greatest when contemplating sustainability, each environmentally and socially. 

As a number one seafood sustainability marketing consultant in North America, FishWise is uniquely suited to reply this query. Our message is kind of the other: there are numerous sustainable seafood merchandise out there, no matter the place you reside or do your buying. Should you perceive a number of fundamental concerns, and test your favourite grocery retailer chain’s seafood sourcing insurance policies, you’ll be capable of confidently select environmentally sustainable seafood merchandise anyplace within the nation.

A Foreword on Holistic Sustainability

My skilled experience is within the environmental sustainability of seafood, and that’s my main focus of the next suggestions. Nevertheless, FishWise defines sustainability holistically, which incorporates many extra concerns than solely the direct environmental impacts of harvesting wild and farmed seafood species. Social accountability is a core part of this holistic sustainability definition, and human and labor rights abuses in seafood provide chains have been certainly a part of the movie Seaspiracy

Nevertheless, quite than present doubtlessly incomplete recommendation for buying socially accountable seafood, I need to provide you with a warning of this omission earlier than you learn additional and defer to my colleagues and the sources on The Roadmap for Bettering Seafood Ethics (RISE) for steerage on socially accountable seafood concerns.

My environmental sustainability suggestions usually overlap with social accountability suggestions, however not at all times. I’ll do my greatest to level out these gaps.

Select Seafood Merchandise from the USA (every time potential)

The primary piece of recommendation I usually supply is to decide on seafood with “USA” because the nation of origin. Usually, if it’s caught or farmed within the U.S., you’ll be able to have a a lot larger degree of confidence that the product is environmentally sustainable.

The U.S. has strong fishery administration legal guidelines which might be designed to rebuild commercially harvested species, or “shares”, and prohibit and penalize overfishing. The usage of “greatest out there science” and “most sustainable yield (MSY)” is actually written into the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the laws offering for the administration of marine fisheries in U.S. waters. Couple the Magnuson-Stevens Act with the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Safety Act, the Nationwide Aquaculture Act, the Nationwide Environmental Coverage Act, and NOAA Fisheries’ dedication to ecosystem-based administration, and you’ve got a system utterly dedicated to sustaining and rebuilding fish shares. The present authorized framework within the U.S. requires fisheries to be rebuilt, as shortly as potential, to ranges that may produce a most sustainable yield, even when meaning foregoing a barely slower, however much more profitable rebuilding trajectory. It’s unlawful to reap seafood unsustainably within the U.S. Thus, if you’ll be able to decide that the U.S. is the nation of origin for a seafood product, then you’ll be able to usually relaxation assured that these environmental sustainability rules apply to that merchandise.

You may need observed that most of the fisheries administration advantages I described above are extra straight relevant to wild fisheries than aquaculture operations. A standard false impression amongst customers is that aquaculture can’t be sustainable, which is totally unfaithful. For instance, most of the farmed seafood industries primarily based within the U.S. have very sturdy environmental sustainability reputations (oysters, mussels, clams, and catfish are examples that come to thoughts). 

Nation of origin labeling is a U.S. legislation that requires meals retailers to inform clients of the origins of meat, seafood, and produce. The legislation was established in 2002, expanded in 2008, and gives a necessary information component for figuring out sustainability. 

Sadly, the COOL legislation has a number of blind spots. In 2008, the legislation was modified to permit sure commodities which might be additional processed exterior the U.S. to retain their U.S. origin on the ultimate bundle. A standard instance is Alaskan wild salmon, caught within the U.S., frozen and despatched overseas to be processed at decrease labor prices, then re-shipped to the U.S. and offered with “Product of U.S.” on the label. The strong fishery administration legal guidelines in Alaska nonetheless apply, however transport the fish overseas to be filleted raises questions of carbon footprint, social accountability, and traceability, since we now should depend on the programs of different international locations, lots of which have much less complete oversight capabilities. A chunk of salmon caught, landed, processed, and offered in California would carry the identical COOL as a bit of Alaskan salmon despatched to a different continent for processing, after which again once more on this method.

One other caveat: the U.S. COOL product doesn’t assure human and labor rights have been upheld all through the provision chain, even when it stays inside the U.S. border all through manufacturing. In recent times, human rights abuses have been reported in Hawaiin fishing fleets, and processing services in New England, the Gulf coast, and Alaska. Few international locations and even fewer industries are exempt from human and labor rights challenges. Whereas the U.S. affords higher provide chain oversight than most, it could be inaccurate to state that each one U.S. seafood merchandise are socially accountable.

It’s price noting that the 2 hottest seafood species for U.S. customers are farmed Atlantic salmon and shrimp, each of that are principally imported. So, whereas it may appear easy to search for the U.S. COOL label when buying seafood, you have to be ready to come across many imported choices. Actually, the U.S. imports nearly all of the seafood it consumes, with a current estimate being between 62-65%. A seafood shopping for information should converse to this two-thirds coming from abroad, particularly contemplating there are numerous different international locations training complete fishery administration methods that deserve client appreciation. Melnychuk et al. discovered a correlation between wholesome fisheries and sound administration. The U.S., Iceland, Norway, and New Zealand featured a number of the healthiest fisheries when measuring analysis, administration, enforcement, socioeconomic, and inventory standing. By these measurements, well-managed fisheries exist everywhere in the world and can be represented at your grocery retailer. 

Perceive the Function of Scores and Certifications

Knowledgeable environmental sustainable seafood purchases require extra than simply COOL when coping with merchandise that cross worldwide borders. Earlier than delving into advanced environmental concerns like catch strategies, fish inventory abundance, and regional fishery administration schemes, as they relate to that piece of swordfish or that bag of shrimp you’re contemplating for dinner tonight, it’s price first contemplating seafood rankings and certifications. These instruments are the spine of many credible seafood sourcing insurance policies. They’re the benchmark, the worldwide customary for environmental sustainability, and primarily based on peer-reviewed, greatest out there science. 

If seafood sustainability rankings and certifications are the be-all-end-all, then why didn’t I begin my information with this suggestion? As a result of they’re tough to know and use accurately, they usually could require info not out there on the seafood counter or on the packaging of a seafood product. Nevertheless, when you’ll be able to get the knowledge you want, these instruments can give you the clearest potential understanding of a seafood product’s environmental sustainability. 

Ratings & Certifications

The most typical environmental ranking within the U.S. is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program (SFW). It charges seafood sources from everywhere in the world, each wild and farmed, however emphasizes these most related to the U.S. market. This implies some near-shore fisheries, bycatch species, or worldwide fisheries may not be rated—which doesn’t essentially imply that they’re unsustainable- they only fell exterior the bandwidth of the SFW evaluation staff. SFW updates every ranking each few years, with precedence given to these atop the U.S. market. This can be a large endeavor and one which deserves extra acclaim and assist.

Environmental sustainability rankings for seafood usually measure three main concerns:

  • Fish inventory abundance 
  • Ecosystem impacts of harvest and/or manufacturing 
  • Fishery administration effectiveness and regulation

This can be a main oversimplification of seafood environmental sustainability rankings and certifications, but when the fish is considerable, the harvest of that fish has minimal influence on the encircling marine setting (and within the case of farmed seafood, the inputs to rear that seafood have a low environmental influence), and there may be strong administration in place to carry harvesters and producers accountable, then that supply can be rated favorably for environmental sustainability. 

SFW has communicated its rankings in a wide range of methods over time. Initially, this system created pockets playing cards that may very well be discovered on the tables at some seafood eating places or on the fish counter at grocery shops. In addition they had a cellular app for fast entry to rankings. Now SFW rankings are solely offered on a just lately overhauled web site to be extra consumer-friendly. 

However discovering the proper ranking can nonetheless be overwhelming to the uninitiated. You will need to know the fishing technique, catch area, and each the FDA frequent title and the scientific title to correctly navigate all SFW rankings. This may be tough even for educated professionals, not to mention the typical shopper. Sadly, SFW can’t be versatile on these key information components with out dropping a few of its consistency and credibility, so that you’ll simply must work with it the perfect you’ll be able to.

SFW rankings observe the site visitors mild system: 

Seafood Watch Ratings
Credit score: Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch

Most corporations that depend on SFW rankings take into account inexperienced or yellow-rated seafood as “sustainable.” SFW makes use of a precautionary strategy to its rankings, so if a product ranks as inexperienced or yellow, you’ll be able to really feel assured shopping for it for environmental causes. To learn extra in regards to the actual methodology of the SFW ranking system, go to right here.

You will need to word that SFW doesn’t at present take into account social accountability indicators in its seafood rankings. The group consists of social accountability into its definition of “sustainable seafood” and helped develop the Seafood Slavery Threat Instrument, however they defer to different organizations on this topic.

SFW works intently with wild fishery and aquaculture certification schemes to keep away from duplicative efforts. A standard instance is that SFW has retired all of its Alaskan wild salmon rankings. In fact, wild salmon caught in Alaska is very sustainable and really related to the U.S. market. Nevertheless, a lot of it is usually Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) licensed. So quite than duplicate the prevailing certification, SFW has “eco-deferred” its environmental sustainability rankings for all Alaskan salmon fisheries to eco-certifications. 

There have been sensible efforts to streamline how certifications and rankings co-exist, together with Seafood Watch’s use of the eco-deferral system. Nevertheless, there are inevitably conditions that may be complicated for customers to navigate. For instance, clients that depend on SFW rankings would possibly marvel why a extremely sustainable product like Alaskan salmon seems unrated, when it’s technically MSC licensed. There’s additionally one other hole whereby smaller home producers may not have a ranking or a certification, barring them from promoting to corporations with stricter sustainability necessities. Should you usually favor U.S. seafood like I urged, the confusion amongst environmental sustainability schemes shouldn’t be as a lot of a difficulty. 

SFW mostly eco-defers to those three certifications:

MSC logo
Credit score: MSC

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – the biggest seafood certification physique on the earth; at present assesses about 17% of world wild fish manufacturing. The MSC has not traditionally integrated social accountability concerns into its certifications, however they’re starting to increase the scope to deal with pressured and little one labor points.  



ASC Logo
Credit score: ASC

Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) – the aquaculture equal to MSC certification. Like MSC, ASC has strong traceability requirements. ASC does embrace a social customary aimed toward prohibiting little one labor and compelled labor, making certain the well being and security of staff, and increasing staff’ rights.



Credit score: BAP

Greatest Aquaculture Practices (BAP) – essentially the most widespread certification for farmed seafood. BAP additionally has requirements that tackle, “social accountability,” in farmed seafood.

MSC and ASC are a move/fail system—a product is both licensed or not.

BAP, however, makes use of a 4-star system. Every star applies to at least one component of enter for the product being licensed: farm, processor, feed-mill, and hatchery. If a product has a 4-star ranking on the bundle, it means all of those services have been assessed for environmental and (some) social sustainability concerns. The most typical rankings you’ll see are 2-star (farm and processor) and 4-star. 

One final essential word: all the things concerned in these rankings and certifications is publicly out there. The MSC has a range of personal, public, and non-profit voices on its advisory boards, they publish stories on the progress of their licensed fishery companions, and each pending certification is open to remark and critique from environmental teams. SFW invitations business to rankings replace calls every month and publishes public stories on each rankings change. Shoppers may even join e-mail alerts to verify they’re at all times up to date. 

Consider it or not, there’s a ton extra I may say about seafood sustainability rankings and certifications. However your head might be already spinning with all this info. Scores and certifications are sophisticated, even for educated professionals. Certifications on the level of sale within the U.S. are additionally not as extensively adopted as they’re in different international locations, so it may be troublesome to depend on them at U.S. grocery shops.

Depend on Your Native Grocery Retailer’s Seafood Sourcing Coverage. 

The vast majority of the biggest grocery shops within the U.S. have publicly out there seafood sourcing insurance policies, simply findable on their web sites. There are various levels of rigor and depth to such insurance policies, however I counsel you start together with your native go-to grocery retailer and see what you will discover. Ideally, the insurance policies would embody environmental, social accountability, and traceability parts. The Conservation Alliance for Seafood Options produced a Widespread Imaginative and prescient to information seafood companies on constructing sustainable seafood packages, and its suggestions are in keeping with greatest practices for U.S. grocery retailer chains.

When evaluating a seafood sourcing coverage, search for solutions to those questions:

  • Which merchandise does this coverage truly cowl?
    • Step one needs to be to have a look at the scope of the corporate’s seafood sourcing coverage. Does it cowl all seafood merchandise, or simply personal label manufacturers? Generally a grocery retailer chain will solely apply a sourcing coverage or a sourcing aim to a discrete set of seafood merchandise, whereas nonetheless providing different seafood merchandise exterior these specs. 
  •  How does this firm outline “environmental sustainability?”
    • The extra particular language you discover, the higher. For environmental sustainability, most grocery retailer corporations depend on certifications like MSC, ASC, and BAP, however some have expanded their definition to incorporate SFW and different ranking programs. If a retailer’s web site simply says “our seafood is sustainable” with out offering further particulars, you’ve gotten good motive to be skeptical. Should you’re nonetheless unclear after some on-line analysis, ask by e-mail, on social media, or within the retailer on how they outline environmental sustainability.
    • An essential caveat is that some smaller retailers could not have the capability to spend money on a particular sourcing coverage, or no less than not one that’s printed on their web site. This doesn’t essentially imply they don’t supply to particular sustainability requirements. When unsure, ask them about their requirements and also you is likely to be reassured. This additionally alerts to them that you simply, the client, cares about these particulars being described publicly, which is at all times a optimistic message to ship to this business.
  • How are corporations verifying sustainability claims?
    • Some grocery retailer chains self-regulate and self-report on sourcing requirements and progress (small retailers often should do that themselves for sensible limitations), however having an unbiased, third-party companion (like FishWise), and a dependable digital traceability platform, provides credibility to a retailers sourcing program. If such partnerships exist, they are going to be described someplace on the grocery retailer’s web site. Search for third-party partnerships like this every time potential.
  • Is the corporate making progress or is it static in its sourcing targets?
    • One other approach an organization can show it’s severe about sustainability is by making an specific time-bound dedication. “By yr X we are going to supply X% of X”. In actuality, there have been loads of company milestones quietly missed that customers don’t bear in mind. Within the eyes of shareholders and higher administration, these milestones are by no means neglected, however true accountability varies. Even so, a time-bound and particular seafood sourcing aim is unquestionably a great factor that provides an additional step not all corporations are keen to take, and gives essential transparency and practicality to a sourcing technique. 
  • Do they tackle social accountability?
    • Social accountability points in seafood are sometimes linked with environmental considerations as a result of each persist in opaque provide chains the place administration and accountability are absent. However social accountability is a definite discipline deserving its personal concerns and planning. The seafood rankings and certifications I described above have been initially created to offer environmental assurances and subsequently don’t totally account for accountable recruitment, first rate work at sea, and employee engagement, in the event that they incorporate social accountability in any respect. As a result of social accountability is complicated not just for customers however for corporations to navigate, FishWise developed the Roadmap for Bettering Seafood Ethics (RISE) to consolidate steerage and supply companies with streamlined human rights sources to satisfy their particular wants. Select grocery retailer chains that incorporate RISE steerage.
    • Many massive U.S. retailers could have already got some social accountability concerns for his or her provide chains associated to different product classes. Nevertheless, there are some uniquely troublesome challenges in seafood provide chains that require particular consideration (transshipment and distant water fleets for instance), and if a model is making particular efforts to evaluate its seafood provide chains for these vulnerabilities, they deserve your patronage. 

Listed below are the highest 5 grocery retailer chains within the U.S. (by income, 2020) and their publicly out there seafood sourcing insurance policies:

  1. Walmart
  2. The Kroger Co.
  3. Costco Wholesale Company
  4. Albertsons Firms Inc.
  5. Ahold Delhaize USA

I need to reiterate that these suggestions for evaluating a seafood sourcing coverage could favor the bigger firms as a result of every bullet level above requires funding. It’s time-consuming and costly to create and execute a traceable, auditable, and accountable seafood program. In some situations, regional and native grocery retailer corporations could not be capable of sustain with the nationwide and worldwide competitors on this regard. This definitely doesn’t imply it is best to keep away from buying seafood at smaller shops. Many of those smaller retailers do have seafood sourcing requirements and are sometimes promoting sustainable, native seafood gadgets not present in bigger grocery retailer chains. I encourage you to ask your smaller neighborhood grocery retailer about its sourcing concerns for seafood earlier than taking your corporation elsewhere.

Sustainable Seafood Does Exist, if You Know The best way to Look For It.

If at this level you’re utterly overwhelmed with the extent of consideration that may go right into a easy journey to the fishmonger, I utterly perceive. The aim of this information was to not overwhelm your determination course of, however quite to reveal the overwhelming period of time, experience, and care that’s invested into environmental sustainability measurements for seafood. When understood correctly, all of the arduous work environmental sustainability specialists have carried out behind the scenes may be utilized to make a fast determination between this product or that product. I hope this left you with an appreciation for that course of and an eagerness to use it in your subsequent grocery retailer journey. 

The very best recommendation is to hunt out as a lot info as potential when purchasing for seafood. Should you can decide the product is from the U.S., or you’ll be able to determine the proper environmental sustainability ranking or certification, you’ll be supporting well-managed fisheries or aquaculture farms. 

However for many of us, that piece of fish we purchase for dinner on the native grocery retailer chain could not include all the knowledge we want on the packaging to make sure of its environmental and social sustainability. In these conditions, lean on the grocery retailer to give you some steerage. You’ll be pleasantly stunned to search out many massive U.S. retailers are already right into a multi-year seafood sourcing dedication measured often by strong evaluation practices. These efforts are partly to guard the model from danger, however additionally they serve to take the accountability out of the consumer’s fingers and onto specialists like FishWise and different related organizations that companion with retailers. Rewarding grocery retailer corporations that spend money on these commitments will sign the significance of increasing these efforts to the complete business, and can can help you navigate the seafood part at your native grocery store with confidence.

Written by:

Jack Cheney
Jack Cheney

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