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sustainable seafood
sustainable seafood

What is 'sustainable seafood?

What is 'sustainable seafood? In simple terms, a particular seafood is sustainable if it comes from a fishery with practices that can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the target species' ability to maintain its population and without adversely impacting on other species within the ecosystem by removing their food source, accidentally killing them, or damaging their physical environment. Identifying which fish come from sustainable sources is extremely difficult.

Because of the difficulties in accurately assessing fish populations and because it is very difficult to trace the supply of fish from the ocean to the shop there is no one, truly effective 'green label'' that consumers can look for on fish products, as there is with wood products for example (the FSC logo). Always ask the person you buy fish from where and how their fish is caught - if they can't tell you or if you are not completely satisfied with their answer, don't buy the fish! There are two key issues determining whether or not a fishery is sustainable.

The first is how healthy the population or 'stock' is and the second, the method used to catch the fish. Some methods are clearly very destructive (like bottom trawling, which ploughs up the sea floor) or indiscriminate (like pair trawling that catches non-target species such as dolphins). There are very few sustainable fisheries. In the UK, the best are line-caught mackerel, line-caught seabass, and farmed mussels. Rod and line caught tuna and herring are also good fisheries. Between 2004 and 2006 Greenpeace ran a campaign to ban pair trawling for seabass in UK waters because this fishing method kills large numbers of common dolphins.

However, seabass caught using a hand line eliminates the problem of bycatch. In this example, if the fish comes from a healthy stock, what determines its sustainability is the method used to catch the fish. Buying sustainable fish is difficult because there is no clear label that marks out products as good to buy. Wood products, for example, are marked with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo if they come from sustainable sources. There is no equivalent labelling scheme for seafood. The Marine Conservation Society produce a well researched guide to fish and we would recommend this as a good source of additional information to help consumers buy sustainable fish.  


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