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Sustainable Seafood Tips from a Travel Loving Fisheries Scientist

Nadine Pinto

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Sustainable seafood and vegetables on a cutting board.

Over 3 billion people worldwide depend on seafood as a major source of protein. The production of seafood is indispensable to the livelihoods of over 800 million people, half of whom are women. In fact, small-scale fisheries employ more people than all other ocean economic sectors combined.

My family is from the Açores Islands, where fishing is not only a key economic driver and integral contributor to food security on the islands, but also a way of life. Seafood is incredibly important to Portuguese culture and traditions. Nonetheless, I recognize that with the globalization of the industry, there is a ton of information out there about sustainable seafood. Admittedly, even as a fisheries scientist I sometimes get overwhelmed.

I want you to be able to enjoy seafood and feel confident in what you’re eating, which is why I’ve provided a list of simple, concrete tips to make sustainable seafood choices that are both good for you and for the planet.

Sustainable seafood does exist

Fisheries scientists use maximum sustainable yield (MSY) to determine the maximum catch that can be sustainably extracted from a fishery. This in the simplest sense, is the definition of sustainable seafood. And while there are plenty of examples of unsustainable fishing practices, there are also fisheries that are well managed and considered to be sustainable, abundant food sources.

Fisheries management has improved significantly over the past 30 years. Fishers and seafood distributors are consciously trying to limit their impact and support more transparency in the industry through efforts like direct marketing and community supported fisheries (CSFs).

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) most recent report on the State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture shows that 78.7% of all landings of marine fisheries come from biologically sustainable stocks. The FAO has also advised that “the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture is a fundamental condition for food security and nutrition.”

By eating seafood that’s caught using sustainable fishing methods, from well-managed fisheries, you can feel confident knowing that your dietary choices not only have a minimal impact on the marine environment but are actually helping to preserve marine resources for the long term. Research shows rebuilding fisheries sustainably could increase global fishing yields by approximately 15% and profits by approximately 80%, meaning food from the sea will be able to feed more people and support more economic livelihoods when managed sustainably.

Men fishing at sea

Image source:Emily de Sousa

Practical tips to make more sustainable seafood choices

1. Buy directly from a fisherman 

Buying directly from fishermen is the easiest way to create more transparency in the seafood supply chain since your seafood is only travelling from the fishermen to you! No middle man for processing, distribution, etc. Buying directly from fishermen also gives you the opportunity to ask questions about how the fishery is managed, what gear was used to catch the fish and any other sustainable seafood questions that you may have. Take it from me, fishermen are almost always eager to tell you all about their catch and they’re incredibly proud of their sustainability efforts on the water. You can buy directly from a fisherman, even if you don’t live near a coast, by joining a community supported fishery program (CSF). Find a CSF near you here!

2. Eat lower on the food chain 

Smaller fish that are lower on the food chain, such as sardines, anchovies, and mackerel, have shorter life spans, reproduce more readily and as a result, are more resilient to fishing pressure. These smaller species tend to be very abundant, so you don’t have to feel guilty eating them!

3. Look for sustainably certified products

Ecolabels can be a helpful way to quickly identify a sustainable seafood product, but it’s important you know what each label means. Take the time to do a quick Google search on what the label means before you buy the product. The Marine Stewardship Council is one of the highest regarded ecolabels in the industry and you can learn more about their sustainability criteria here.

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4. Get adventurous with weird fish 

One of my favourite pieces of advice to give people when it comes to sustainable seafood is to eat weird fish. Especially in North America, we tend to gravitate towards the same species, like shrimp, salmon, and tuna. High demand for only a handful of species is one of the drivers behind overfishing. Take the time to learn about what species are locally abundant in the waters near you and experiment with those fish instead. Picking a locally abundant, underutilized species can help take pressure off some of those high-demand fisheries that are being pushed to the brink.

5. Frozen is the new fresh 

There are plenty of reasons to love frozen seafood, but one is because of its smaller carbon footprint in comparison to fresh seafood. In order for fresh seafood to arrive at its destination fresh, it needs to be transported quicker. For example, getting fresh salmon from Alaska to Ontario would require air transport to arrive quickly enough to still be “fresh”. Whereas with frozen seafood, because the product has already been flash-frozen at sea, there’s no concern about freshness deteriorating, so it can be moved slower, like via transport truck, which has a much smaller carbon footprint than planes.

6. Shuck those oysters 

Oysters might be the most sustainable seafood choice that anyone can make. Oysters purify the water they’re growing in and sequester nitrogen and CO2 from the atmosphere. Essentially they act like little carbon capture tools in the ocean.

Learn more about how to make sustainable seafood choices here.


Image source:Emily de Sousa

Fish are food and livelihoods

Seafood consumption has been and continues to be, a significant source of nutrition, employment, and cultural value for communities around the world. Sustainable seafood is also the lowest impact animal protein and one of the lowest impact foods, nutritionally speaking. Try to find something better to eat for the planet than farmed bivalves or wild-caught small pelagics like sardines.

Currently, 3.3 billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of protein and this number is only expected to increase. A 2021 report by the FAO cites the importance of seafood for ending hunger and addressing malnutrition.

The global seafood industry also plays a vital role in livelihoods by employing hundreds of millions of people worldwide, many of which are women.  As travellers, we recognize the importance that food holds in a destination. Sustainably managing fisheries is not only about food security and economic livelihoods, but it’s also about cultural preservation. Seafood must continue to be an integral solution in meeting the growing demand for protein around the world.

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by Emily De Sousa Feb 13, 2021

More ways to protect the ocean while travelling with Contiki

Contiki’s MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences give you the opportunity to take part in sustainable ocean experiences that give back to local communities and help protect local ecosystems. 

Here are a few:

Sustainable seafood 101 by Emily de Sousa

Image source:Emily de Sousa

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