You may have noticed things getting a little fishy here at TriplePundit over the past few months, as we dive into the environmental and social impact of the seafood industry in an in-depth series. You can explore the series here to read each post in full. But in case you're pressed for time (it is Friday after all), this list will give you the need-to-know facts and trends in the burgeoning sustainable seafood movement. Give it a read, and impress your friends at the oyster bar happy hour after work.
To keep up with demand for certain species, massive commercial fishing vessels empty large swaths of water in one pass, then simply move on to another. Known as overfishing, the serial depletion of fish populations that leaves few adult fish to repopulate the seas, this phenomenon poses a real and imminent threat to ocean biodiversity.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization 87 percent of the wild fisheries globally are stressed. That is, they’re either over exploited, fished at the maximum level, are depleted or are working toward recovery. Meanwhile, demand for fish is outpacing the growth in the human population. While the world’s population grows at 1.7 percent annually, fish production grows at 3.2 percent annually.
An estimated 33 percent of seafood sold in the United States is incorrectly labeled by type of fish, catch method or provenance, according to a recent report by conservation group Oceana. This is not a new problem—there have been documented cases going back to at least the 1930s when canneries tried to pass off mackerel for pricier salmon. But now, with the falling price of computing power and tech-enabled tracking devices starting to change traceability methods, technology is fast-becoming an unlikely hero in the traditional world of seafood.
Though direct actions like overfishing cause rightful concern, indirect actions can also pose a significant threat to our oceans and the fish that call them home--namely accelerated warming caused by climate change. To put it simply: As the Earth warms, so do the oceans—causing increasing rates of acidification that concern scientists and lawmakers alike.
President Barack Obama noted acidification as a key climate-related concern in an Executive Order he issued last year urging Americans to embrace climate change awareness. Scientists note that acidification has happened before in Earth’s history—but never at such rapid rate. The most comparable event, which took place about 65 million years ago, is estimated to be 10 times slower than current acidification.
Between mislabeling, overfishing, and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices, the notoriously opaque seafood supply chain is rife with issues that affect both our oceans and corporate bottom lines. Think of it this way: Without traceability, a company that's doing things the right way is forced to place their product on store shelves next to a cheaper product from an irresponsible company that cut costs by using unsustainable methods.
Luckily, better data may offer a solution to seafood traceability woes. "Better data means going beyond murky definitions of traceability systems to verified data. This is not a foreign idea to supply chains: Couple product data with time and location stamps, and an auditable trail of information is produced — one that could be demonstrably free of illegal fish, for example," wrote Cheryl Dahle, founder of Future of Fish, in a recent post on TriplePundit.
Looking for the new foodie-centric trend? Don't worry, we're not trying to sell you on some crazy Cronut-cupcake hybrid. We're talking about community supported fisheries (CSFs). A spinoff of the community supported agriculture (CSA) programs born of the local food movement, CSFs shorten the seafood supply chain by providing restaurants and grocery stores with access to premium, locally caught and sustainable seafood.
By giving local, responsible fishermen direct access to restaurants, grocers and distributors, the distance from sea to plate shrinks immeasurably--allowing far less room for mislabeling and other illegal practices and giving hometown fisheries a chance to shine.
Aquaculture has a somewhat problematic past in terms of environmental impacts, but with improved methods and technology on the rise, a growing number of companies and organizations are revisiting aquaculture to meet the needs of a growing global population.
From "net pen" operations off the coast of Hawaii to food desert solutions in the big city, the aquaculture industry is expanding to new heights. TriplePundit recently paid a visit to Redkey, Indiana to check out Bell Aquaculture, a particularly promising fish farm--touring their facility and bringing you up-close videos so you can see how it all works.
In a recent post on TriplePundit, Future of Fish founder Cheryl Dahle recognizes that the wide range of issues facing the seafood industry may tempt some eco-minded consumers to skip fish altogether. But she then goes on to present this food for thought: "Before you give up and order lasagna, remember that jobs depend on fish: 200 million of them globally, directly or indirectly."
Rather than eliminating fish from our diets for sustainability reasons, Dahle argues a more productive approach is to change the way we think about seafood and embrace fish with story.
Mary Mazzoni is the senior editor of TriplePundit. She is also the co-host of 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands LIVE! and the producer of 3p’s sponsored editorial series. She is based in Philadelphia and loves to travel, spend time outdoors and experiment with vegetarian recipes in the kitchen. Along with TriplePundit, her recent work can be found in Conscious Company and VICE’s Motherboard.