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3p Weekend: 7 Hot Trends in Sustainable Seafood


With America's independence day right around the corner, we're getting an early jump on our 3p Weekend post this week. So, before you pack up your desk for the long weekend, spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

Last year, TriplePundit took a deep dive into the world of seafood with a special series that made a big splash with readers. So, what's new in sustainable seafood since we wrapped our series? To find out, we headed to Industry Lab at Sustainable Seafood Week New York City, one of four city stops on SSW's first national tour.

1. No, you shouldn't stop eating fish

If your exposure to seafood industry news centers mostly around overfishing, mislabeling or human rights abuses, your knee-jerk instinct may be to stop eating fish altogether. But this is far from the solution.

Consider this: 1 in 8 people globally are either directly or indirectly supported by fisheries, despite the fact that seafood makes up only 2 percent of what we eat. As a conscious consumer, it becomes clear that removing fish from your diet would only deprive these individuals of their livelihoods.

Seafood is also one of the most efficient and nutritious animal proteins out there. It takes 8.7 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of beef compared to 1.2 pounds of feed to produce a pound of salmon. As Linda Cornish, executive director of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, said at Sustainable Seafood Week NYC, "Seafood can be a gateway to healthy eating." She has a point: The USDA recommends that Americans eat seafood twice a week for a healthy diet, but only 1 in 10 of us actually do this. Talk about food for thought.

2. Tech-driven traceability

To kick off Industry Lab at Sustainable Seafood Week NYC, organizers from Flip Labs and Future of Fish prompted attendees to brainstorm about the future of seafood traceability. In a 'World Cafe setting,' fishmongers, restauranteurs and NGO representatives broke into groups to discuss challenges the industry faces with scaling-up traceability solutions.

One thing was clear: The next wave of seafood traceability will be data driven. But this presents numerous challenges: How and where do we store all that data? How can we maintain a low entry-point for fishermen, who are used to doing little more than checking a box on a piece of paper? How can we bring traceability tools to seafood suppliers in developing nations?

While we didn't find the ultimate solution (or create world peace) that afternoon, the exercise sparked meaningful dialogue that's necessary to bring traceability to the next level. And attendees like Thomas Kraft of Norpac Fisheries Export and Eric Enno Tamm of Ecotrust Canada are already brining traceability tech to scale in the real world.

3. Making sense of standards

Okay, so imagine you're an average consumer in the seafood aisle: You look at two seemingly identical pieces of fish, and you notice one is labeled as 'sustainable.' That's great and all, you may think, but what does 'sustainable' really mean? Then you notice a few more cuts of fish, each with their own sustainability label from a different organization. Now you're really confused, and the likelihood of your grabbing the nearest fillet and moving on to the dairy section quickly increases.

The concept of making 'sustainability' mean something real to consumers is nothing new. But for industries like seafood, where different organizations provide certifications for both farmed and wild-caught seafood, it can be even more challenging.

This is a conversation springing up more and more in the industry, and several key players are taking action to clear things up for consumers and drive demand for sustainably-sourced seafood. Whole Foods, for example, created its own standard for farmed seafood. Rather than slap a label on the fish and call it a day, the natural foods giant put its standards online and trained employees on how to clearly explain them to customers.

"It's important to Whole Foods that we can clearly explain our standards to consumers and have verification from third parties," Carrie Brownstein, the company's seafood quality standards coordinator, said at Sustainable Seafood Week NYC. Those two factors may be just the ticket.

4. Collaboration for a better future

TriplePundit had the pleasure of attending Industry Day at Sustainable Seafood Week NYC last year. For 2015, the name of the event slightly changed to 'Industry Lab' to reflect its increasingly collaborative and interactive nature.

As we gathered at Riverpark, a swanky eatery on 29th Street overlooking the East River, one thing stood out most: Collaboration will be key for the future of sustainable seafood. When bringing disruptive solutions to scale -- and literally retraining (and re-inspiring) millions of people to do their jobs differently -- you need all hands on deck.

5. Try 'em all

When most people think of fish, they think of one of a few species: shellfish, salmon, maybe tilapia or striped bass. And this isn't just customers -- it's chefs, restauranteurs and purveyors, too.

It's time to change the conversation, Barton Seaver, a former restauranteur who now serves as health and sustainable seafood director at Harvard University, said in New York last week.

There are basically seven types of fish, Seaver continued, ranging from light and flaky to rich and meaty. If cooked properly, fish that fall under the same category will taste almost exactly the same, whether it's a well-known flaky fish like tilapia or a more uncommon catch like branzino. Seventy to 80 percent of all seafood is eaten in restaurants, he told us, so it's largely up to chefs and restauranteurs to adopt a catch-of-the-day mentality and open consumers' eyes to unknown species.

"Dinner is the mechanism by which we create this change," Seaver said. "If you get an overcooked steak, you'll eat steak again tomorrow. If you get a crappy piece of fish, you're done as far as seafood."

6. Advancing the aquaculture conversation

For years, the conversation around eating farmed fish centered around one word: don't. But times are changing, and aquaculture has emerged as an essential component to the future of the seafood industry. The fact of the matter is that the global population is set to hit 9 billion people by 2030. Nearly 3 billion people already rely on seafood for animal protein, predominantly in developing nations. To continue providing this food source without depleting wild fisheries, the industry will need aquaculture.

As such, the conversation is moving beyond stigmas around aquaculture to creating sustainability in the sector. Companies are already out there doing it right -- whether it's net-pen aquaculture or indoor fish farms -- and they're providing best practices that will help the industry get to the next level.

7. Storied fish

"It's time to move from 'sustainability' to 'storied,'" Barton Seaver of Harvard University said in New York last week. "Storied fish, by nature, is sustainable because it has to be traceable."

A "story" -- what type of fish it is, where it was caught and who caught it -- communicates something people can identify with, versus the 'sustainable' moniker that doesn't always mean much to consumers.

To put the idea in action, industry leaders are spearheading the concept of civic fisheries: fisheries evaluated by the number of jobs they create, the culture of the fishery community and the number of people they feed around the world.

This is the responsibility of seafood communications, experts at Sustainable Seafood Week NYC concluded: to build a culture around fisheries and inspire consumers to connect with their seafood purchase, the same way they might with an heirloom tomato from their local farmers market.

Image credits: 1) Flickr/Aitor Garcia Vinas 2) ThisFish 3) Flickr/Christopher Titzer

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

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.

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