Sustainable food | What about fish?

Plenty of fish in the sea…? Are you sure!?

Many stocks of the popular whitefish such as cod or plaice are in bad shape – there may be plenty on the shelves, but there are not many left in the sea. For example, bluefin tuna are as endangered as rhinos, but they’re still been fished to the edge of extinction [Greenpeace].

What is ‘sustainable’ seafood?

A particular fish or seafood is sustainable if it comes from a fishery with practices that can be maintained indefinitely without reducing the target species’ ability to maintain its population and without adversely impacting on other species within the ecosystem by removing their food source, accidentally killing them, or damaging their physical environment.  Sustainability in fisheries may mean for example to avoid  overfishing certain species through different techniques.

There are two key issues determining whether or not a fishery is sustainable. The first is how healthy the population is and the second is the method used to catch the fish. Some methods are clearly very destructive (like bottom trawling, which ploughs up the sea floor) or indiscriminate (like pair trawling that catches non-target species such as dolphins).

What can we do?

  • Always ask the person you buy fish from where and how their fish is caught – if they can’t tell you or if you are not completely satisfied with their answer, don’t buy the fish!
  • Try something new ! Ask staff at the fish counter for a good alternative to your usual choice. Some supermarkets are promoting these alternatives each month. If we reduce consumption and broaden our tastes, the pressure on popular species can be reduced.
  • Choose seafood that has been sourced from small local UK fisheries. Why doing this? (1) Local fishermen who are using or developing more sustainable methods need support. Fish sourced from the waters of the south-west UK generally tend to be less depleted than those caught in the North Sea. (2) Climate change is already having a major impact on the marine environment – transporting seafood around the world is only adding to this problem. (3) Fish from the other side of the world may be taken from poorer communities that rely on fish as their main source of protein.
  • Choose line-caught fish wherever possible. Line-caught fish from small-scale fisheries don’t have the bycatch or stock-depletion problems that are associated with trawling with massive nets. Line-caught fish also tend to be of better quality than trawled or netted fish. The line-caught sea bass and mackerel fisheries in SW England are a good option.
  • Be wary of farmed fish. Aquaculture is often promoted as being the solution to sustainable fisheries, and has undergone a massive growth over the last 50 years. Unfortunately, with the exception of some shellfish farms and freshwater fish reared in ponds, most aquaculture exacerbates the pressures placed on over-exploited marine ecosystems.
  • Which supermarkets are the best? Currently Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and the Co-op have good sustainable aquaculture polices in place and are working to improve the sustainability of their farmed seafood.
  • Buy Organic or Freedom Food-certified seafood. Fish or shellfish farms that have organic certification have the highest environmental standards in the aquaculture industry. The main organic certifier, the Soil Association, is raising its standards to ensure that any wild-caught fish used in farmed fish feed is minimized and sourced sustainably. For example Purely Organic [a small-scale family farm producing Organic certified rainbow and brown trout] and Salmac [Organic and Freedom Food certified salmon]
  • Buy herbivorous fish. Fish like carp, tilapia, and barramundi are herbivores – they eat plants and don’t need to be feed with fishmeal. In the UK these fish tend to be farmed in enclosed ponds and have a lower impact on the surrounding environment.

The good news? All the fish you find in DMU is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. You can enjoy your fish&chips without feeling guilty!!

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