Catch the Wave
Sustainable Seafood Swims to the Top of the Menu
Navigating the shifting tides of sustainability can be tricky. Each year, new issues and concerns surface – should farmed fish be avoided or embraced, what’s the most trusted certification, do customers care about sustainably caught seafood? Valid questions all, and answers are vitally needed in a world where 85 percent of global fish stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted*.
It’s the reason aquaculture, defined as the farming of aquatic species (fish and shellfish) in salt, brackish or freshwater, has made its mark. About half of the seafood currently produced globally is from aquaculture operators, but it represents so much more … farm-raised fish are the very future of seafood. As Steve Hedlund of the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA), an organization whose ambitious mission is to feed the world through sustainable aquaculture, says: “By 2030, more than two-thirds of human seafood consumption will be from farm-raised fish. We know growth is coming and we want to ensure it happens as responsibly as possible.”
But is everyone buying in? Not quite yet, according to experts.
“Recent studies have shown that a majority of chefs are neutral or negative in terms of aquaculture, and many consumers are also very wary,” says Barton Seaver, author and passionate seafood advocate. As Director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, he helps shine a spotlight on healthy aquaculture practices. “It’s understandable but a real shame. When a story is written exposing abuses in a facet of aquaculture, it’s the whole industry that bears the blame.”
Seafood, whether wild or farm raised, should be celebrated from an environmental perspective, says Seaver. “If you look at a host of factors from feed conversion to greenhouse gas emissions, when measured against animal-based proteins, seafood is almost always the better environmental choice,” he contends.
In less than two decades, certification programs for both wild and farmed fish have spawned faster than guppies, giving operators the information and support needed to make choices that satisfy the restaurant’s bottom line, consumer appetites and the planet.
“It started out almost as a novelty, but now it’s an expectation of doing business. Every major company has a sustainability policy and goals,” says Hedlund. While GAA’s respected certification program, Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), established in 2003, has helped companies take significant steps in their sustainability journey, 90 percent of aquaculture facilities are not yet certified. Recognizing this, GAA is developing a new program — IBAP, a precursor to certification, which sends a welcome message to the marketplace that a facility has a sustainability improvement program and timetable in progress.
Bringing underutilized species to the forefront would also move the sustainability needle, a trend that’s long overdue. “Culturally there’s been more awareness of using by-catch, but this has largely happened only within the white tablecloth arena. The top species have remained static for years … shrimp, salmon, tuna and fresh lake fish,” says Seaver.
That too may be undergoing a sea change, as evidenced by the Culinary Institute of America’s emphasis on teaching best practices in aquaculture and commercial fishing, along with an introduction to underutilized species, in its seafood courses. “When a respected educational institution makes sustainability a centerpiece of its curriculum, it reinforces for new generations of chefs the importance of incorporating sustainable sourcing into decisions about how to build their menus,” says Sheila Bowman of Seafood Watch.
So cast a wider net and try species like pollock, dogfish, arcadian white fish, mackerel, Mediterranean sea bass (branzini), Asian carp and octopus. Romance the unfamiliar by letting customers sample it, while providing a bit of education on your newest catch. With 67 percent of Millennials agreeing with the need to eat seafood only from sustainable sources (MSC, 2016), it may serve as the perfect hook to lure in the newest generation of adventurous eaters and environmental champions.
Want to learn more about seafood?
Barton Seaver’s newest book, to be published in Fall 2017, will document the backstory of every commercially available species harvested in the U.S. to date. His mission: to offer operators and diners “a sense of fluency with seafood that has been so long missing from our restaurant experience, and give people the comfort to try new things more often.”
Trident’s Alaskan Pollock, one of the most sustainable and abundant species in the world, is being rediscovered as a culinary fish. Be sure and call out its origins on your menu. According to a recent American National Standards Institute study, 94 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase a seafood item if Alaska is a descriptor.
Get a Line on these helpful resources:
FishChoice is a sustainable seafood sourcing tool that connects restaurants to suppliers of sustainable seafood products. A three-step Sustainable Seafood Calculator enables you to choose fish species, fish origin and harvest method to determine sustainability. www.fishchoice.com/sustainableseafoodcalculator
Seafood Watch, developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to research and evaluate wild-caught and farmed seafood. www.seafoodwatch.org
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), a fishery certification program and seafood ecolabel that recognizes and rewards sustainable fishing. Suppliers can receive chain of custody certification for wild seafood traceability standards. www.msc.org
Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) offers a certification program for responsibly farmed fish, crustaceans and shellfish. www.asc-aqua.org
NOAA’s FishWatch Project measures the sustainability of U.S. fisheries through the Fish Stock Sustainability Index (FSSI). www.FishWatch.gov
Global Aquacultural Alliance (GAA) offers a third party certification program, Best Aquaculture Practices, addressing environmental and social responsibility, animal welfare, food safety and traceability. www.aquaculturealliance.org
Fair Trade Capture Fisheries Standard is structured along the core Fair Trade USA principles of empowerment, economic development, social responsibility and environmental stewardship. www.Fairtradeusa.org
Reinhart’s suppliers are fully committed to providing sustainable choices, with impressive results. Beaver Street Fisheries is working with MSC on final certification for warm water lobster tails in the Bahamas, and with Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) on several initiatives. Trident Seafoods requires full traceability from water to table and has achieved certifications from the Alaska Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) and the MSC. High Liner Foods has likewise established strict guidelines to ensure its wild caught and farmed seafood are 100 percent responsibly sourced.
*Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health