5 Ways You Can Help To Advocate For Responsible Seafood

Created on Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Vote with your wallet

As consumers, we have been trained to look for the best deal, but what are the unforeseen and often hidden impacts of these savings on other people and our planet? When we explore the journey our seafood takes from water to plate, we quickly realize that although cheaper seafood is better on our budget, too often it is not worth the hidden costs. Similar to other industries, suspiciously low prices can reek of practices that exploit human rights and leave a devastating impact on the environment. For consumers, this dark side of supply chains can leave one feeling overwhelmed in the shopping aisle. Although there is not an ultimate guide on how much you should pay for responsible seafood, you can ask questions to help determine if the fish was harvested responsibly. 

As seafood lovers, it is our responsibility to choose seafood that supports practices that are aligned with our values so that we can use our power as consumers to create the kind of change we seek to see in the world. Choosing our seafood responsibly helps to support the people who are involved with bringing this food to our plate, while ensuring that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy the same seafood. Here are five ways that you can help to advocate for responsible seafood by paying the true cost for our seafood. 

1) Demand transparency in seafood supply chains

As conscious shoppers, we can use our dollars to create demand for transparency in the seafood industry so that we can follow the precise journey our fish took from water to plate. When fish are harvested responsibly and there is a demand for such products, companies have more incentive to be transparent and adopt robust, electronic traceability systems (the ability to track the movement of seafood through its supply chains). Consumer demand is a powerful tool for shifting supply chains and asking questions about the origins of your seafood helps to increase transparency in the seafood sector.

2) Understand the drivers that lead to human and labor rights abuses

Simply put, the demand for cheap seafood and our “all you can eat” consumer mindset means fishing and aquaculture companies need to catch or harvest more fish at lower profit margins to satisfy market demand. The search to lower labor costs has driven some seafood processing jobs to regions where government oversight and worker protections are lacking and where government systems experience high levels of corruption. For example, in 2015 an Associated Press investigation found shrimp peeling sheds in South-East Asia were illegally operating using trafficked and child laborers. The demand for cheap labor has also resulted in well-documented cases of extreme human rights and labor abuses aboard fishing vessels. 

3) Buy seafood from regions with strong fisheries management 

Countries with effective fisheries management are able to determine sustainable catch limits and have the capacity to enforce fishing regulations, such as seasonal closures, size limits, and fishing gear requirements. The U.S. has some of the best managed fisheries in the world, however the majority of seafood that is consumed in the U.S. is imported- often at a cost that is cheaper than domestic products. Some of these imported products are from regions at high-risk for illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing represents more than 28 million tons of fish unaccounted for–an economic loss, a tremendous threat to our oceans, and a sustainability management nightmare. IUU products also undermine the market value for products of legal origins, which is why the U.S recently enacted the Seafood Import Monitoring Program. 

4) Support businesses that have committed to responsible seafood

Consumer demand influences the products we see in the marketplace. If the price is fishy and too good to be true, it probably is! Support businesses that make a public commitment to sourcing responsibly harvested seafood that is transparent and ethical. 

5) Encourage seafood lovers to diversify their plate

If all seafood was priced fairly and high demand for particular choices of seafood meant that prices increased, many consumers would be forced to explore seafood that is in less demand. And for consumers who are concerned about their budget, it is really important to note that not all responsibly sourced seafood is expensive! For example, pink salmon is a delicious, nutritious, and an affordable ocean protein. Eating seasonally or lower on the food chain, will also likely bring you responsible savings on your food bill. 

Consumers have power. By becoming more informed and making small changes in our buying habits, each of us can help decrease the demand for cheap, unsustainable seafood. If you are interested in learning more, visit FishWise’s website; look for credible certifications while shopping and dining out, including Fair Trade seafood, products certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC); or use the handy seafood guide from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Also, take note of businesses that have based their practices around responsible seafood like California’s Kitchen Catch, which encourages customers to diversify and expand their seafood palette. As always, it also pays to get to know your local fishers, grocers, and restaurateurs as they can tell you the complete tale behind your seafood!

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