What is Sustainable Seafood?

Oct 12 2011

Seafood is deemed sustainable when a fishery harvests fish species in a way that meets current and future needs without  jeopordizing the species’s ability to reproduce, and without destroying the ecosystem from which the species was caught.  Sustainable seafood tackles two problems that threaten the health of marine ecosystems: over fishing and environmentally-destructive fishing methods.  

Slow-growing fish that reproduce late in life are vulnerable to overfishing while fish species that grow quickly and breed young are more resistant. Fish species are considered to be victim to overfishing when the rate of removal from the fish population (stock)  is too high.  Overfished species are those whose numbers are declining due to factors in addition to overfishing including environmental degredation.  According to NOAA’s 2010 Status of Stocks report, U.S. fish populations victim to overfishing increased from 38 stocks in 2009 to 40 stocks in 2010 (16%), and 46 stocks were overfished in 2009 compared to 48 overfished stocks in 2010. 

Sustainable seafood can be wild-caught or farmed raised, just as long as the fishery meets sustainable standards.  Fisheries aim to maintain fish populations and avoid environmental degredation by utilizing knowledge of a fish species’ population dynamics and by using sustainable fishing techniques.  Environmentally harmful fishing techniques include dredging, gillnetting, longlining, purse seining and trawling.  These methods produce bycatch and cause significant harm to the ecoystem.  Sustainable fisheries use techniques such as hook and lining, harpooning, traps, and trolling which greatly reduce bycatch and leave ecosystems intact. 

A fishery is deemed sustainable when it is certified by organizations such as Marine Stewardship Council and Friend of the Sea.  A fishery must also meet the 10 national standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act . You can ensure that you are buying sustainable seafood when you purchase fish managed under a U.S. fishery management plan.

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