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Sustainable Seafood – What Is Sustainable Seafood?

Sustainable Seafood 101

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It’s been the fishing buzzword over the last few years - sustainable seafood. Sounds great! Sounds green! But what is it?

According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, the kingpins of America’s fishing regulations, “Seafood is sustainable when the population of that species of fish is managed in a way that provides for today’s needs without damaging the ability of the species to reproduce and be available for future generations.”

So if you by sustainable seafood, you can be assured that the population of that fish in the wild hasn’t suffered and is threatened. Naturally, if you by fish-farmed seafood, you are not endangering a wild population, thus aquaculture is a sustainable seafood source.

NOAA also says that “If you buy seafood under a U.S. fishery management plan, you can be assured it meets 10 national standards that ensure fish stocks are maintained, overfishing is eliminated, and the long-term socioeconomic benefits to the nation are achieved.” That statement is generally true but is also too broad to be entirely accurate.

The Marine Stewardship Council certifies seafood that is caught or raised in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. Items that meet its criteria are marked with an MSC-certified label.

NOAA has identified 3 goals to end overfishing and support sustainable fishing practices. They are:

1. Develop a sustainable supply of safe seafood to meet public demand.
2. Develop a healthy domestic seafood industry that harvests, produces, processes, and markets seafood responsibly and efficiently.
3. Inform consumers to understand the importance of ecosystem health and sustainable harvesting practices for the future of domestic fisheries and inform them to understand how to evaluate the safety of the seafood products they buy.

According to the National Fisheries Institute, some estimates claim that seafood around the world will be extinct by the year 2048. The NFI is a non-profit organization dedicated to education about seafood safety, sustainability, and nutrition. Their membership encompasses the entire industry, from fishing vessels to your plate. Naturally, NFI fully supports sustainable use of the nation’s and the planet’s ocean resources. They require responsible fishing practices and sustainable management.

According to government scientists’ statistics, more than 80 percent of fish stocks are sustainable and will provide seafood now and for future generations. Regarding recent reports, NOAA Fisheries’ Chief Scientist Steve Murawski believes the 2048 estimate is not credible for the United States. He believes that using fish catch statistics as a measure of the population size is not accurate because many factors influence the actual catch from a stock.

NFI also says that the country’s seafoods are sustainably managed. The top 10 seafoods in America are:

1. Shrimp – Sustainably managed a
2. Tuna -- Sustainably managed
3. Salmon -- Sustainably managed
4. Pollock -- Sustainably managed
5. Catfish -- Sustainably managed
6. Tilapia -- Sustainably managed
7. Crab – – Limited overfishing b
8. Cod – – Limited overfishing c
9. Clams -- Sustainably managed
10. Flatfish – Limited overfishing d

a Sustainable means a fish stock is not overfished.
b Yellowtail and Winter flounder from Georges Bank
c King and Tanner crabs from Bering Sea
d Cod from Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine

According to the University of Michigan, the following are national examples of overfishing:

New England groundfish and flounder
Southeast Spiny Lobster
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and Swordfish
Main Hawaiian Island Bottomfish and Pelagic Armorhead
Large Coastal Sharks
Gulf of Mexico King Mackerel and Pink Shrimp
Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean Reef Fish Complex
Pacific Ocean Perch
North Pacific Albacore
Oysters, Hard Clams, and Abalones in many locations.

According to the Unite Nations World Water Development Report, 99 percent of the worldwide annual commercial ocean catch comes from coastal waters, within 200 nautical miles of the coastline. These areas are the most productive and the most vulnerable.

According to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, 75% of the major marine fish stocks are either depleted, overexploited or being fished at their biological limit. Furthermore, about one-third of the world's coral reef systems have been destroyed or significantly damaged.

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