A Guide to Buying Sustainable Seafood

Why is sustainability important? Read this.


You want to buy sustainable seafood, but you don’t know where to start. This is extremely common and, unfortunately, a huge deterrence for folks who want to incorporate more fish into their diets but are afraid to do it irresponsibly. Many are overwhelmed by the “Whats” — What if the seafood isn’t labelled? What do I ask the fishmonger? What are the answers I’m even looking for?

This can surely make one’s head spin.

There’s a lot to take in and learn and I’m still in the process, but I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned so far to help make your shopping experience a better and hopefully easier one.

Do some homework

  • Load up a state-specific consumer guide. This consumer guide will help you at the fish counter so you can avoid all that head-scratching.
  • Use Seafood Watch. You can search Seafood Watch for the brands, retailers, and restaurants you support to see if they’re a partner. On this list, you’ll find businesses like Whole Foods, Blue Apron, and Pike Place Fish Co. (If you can’t find something on this list, don’t fret. Just because someone isn’t a partner with Seafood Watch doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t a sustainable option.)
  • If you’re in Canada, use SeaChoice. With SeaChoice you can search for sustainable seafood and responsible partners.
  • Know fishing and farming methods. Some markets label their fish with where it was caught and how. This allows you to make a good choice on your own and avoid supporting methods that hurt marine life and result in bycatching. Here are fishing and farming methods.

The fish counter

  • Check for labels next to fish. Some markets, like Whole Foods, are transparent and have it all in plain sight. Some fish are labelled as certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) while others are labelled with ratings of green (best choice) or yellow (good alternative). Though red (avoid) is an existing label, I’ve never seen a grocer who prides themselves on sustainability carry fish on the ‘avoid’ list. Sometimes you’ll see a label that discloses where the fish was caught and the method that was used. This is when familiarity with fishing and farming methods is useful.
  • Download the free Seafood Watch App. You can literally have information right at your fingertips. By downloading this app you’ll get up-to-date seafood recommendations; you can search for seafood quickly and easily by common market names, find nearby restaurants and stores that offer ocean-friendly seafood, etc.
  • Ask your fishmonger. If the fish isn’t labelled, ask the fishmonger where the fish is from and how it was caught. If they can’t answer your questions, it could be one of two things: the individual is new, or the market isn’t overly concerned about sustainability nor educating their employees and customers on sustainability. Is this a red flag? Maybe? Use your best judgement.

Canned fish

  • Know your canned tuna. Though there are sustainable varieties out there, most brands support destructive fishing practices. Greenpeace USA has a handy Tuna Shopping Guide that can help you acquire sustainable canned tuna.
  • Opt for sardines and mackerel. Sardines and mackerel are inexpensive, sustainable, healthy, versatile, and delicious. You also don’t have to worry about mercury content with these two options, and they’re often canned in infused oils or sauces to make things extra delish; consider swapping your tuna for this good stuff!
  • Read canned salmon labels. Alaskan pink salmon, sockeye, or red salmon is what you’re looking for. The Alaskan salmon fishery is one of the most well-managed, safe, and sustainable fisheries in the world.
  • Avoid crabs from Asian fisheries. One of the healthiest crab fisheries lies in North America, notably the West coast. Look for trap-caught Dungeness crab from Canada, Washington, California, and Oregon. The crab and fishing industries in Asia are hardly regulated, using trawl methods and gillnets which lead to devastating bycatch. Avoid anything that is labelled as “swimmer crab”, “swimming crab”, “blue swimmer crab”, “jumbo lump crab”, or “backfin lump crab”.
  • Canned shrimp is a major offender. Look for shrimp harvested in the US form the West Coast or Alaska. Most shrimp that are labelled as “tiny pink shrimp” or “salad shrimp” are products from the US and are considered safe. Read the fine print and if the country of origin isn’t disclosed, avoid it.
  • Anchovies, clams, and oysters are a GO. Let’s end the canned seafood segment on a high note with the fact that anchovies and bivalves like clams and oysters are a-okay. They have much less impact on the environment due to their high rates of productivity and low rank on the marine food chain. So get your crackers out and pull the lid back on those smoked oysters!

Resources

Tree Hugger

OrganicLife

Mother Jones

Stock photos from Unsplash/FoodiesFeed