Creating demand for a healthy ocean with sustainable ‘blue foods’

This article is sponsored by Marine Stewardship Council.

The ocean affects us all

The ocean can feel a million miles away when you’re sitting at your desk in your home/office or reading the news on your mobile device. While 40 percent of Americans live along the coast, the ocean is a critical resource for every one of us no matter where we live — it provides the oxygen we breath, regulates the climate, is a source of food, employment and recreation, and contributes around $397 billion in goods and services to the U.S. economy per year. There are an ocean of reasons to care about the health of marine ecosystems, especially during June as we celebrate National Oceans Month in the U.S. and World Ocean Day on June 9 globally.

But the ocean is under threat. Recent headlines can feel overwhelming, and that hope for a more sustainable future may be out of reach. The good news is that businesses, non-profits, scientists and shoppers are coming together to take meaningful action to protect the ocean and are making a positive impact — starting with the food on our plates. “Blue foods,” or food derived from aquatic animals such as fish and shellfish that come from freshwater and marine environments, play a critical role in supporting human health, global economic health and, when managed sustainably, contribute to a healthy ocean.

A global commodity for people and planet

Fish and fishery products are the largest traded food commodity in the world. Global capture — or wild-caught — fisheries produced 96.4 million tons, the highest level recorded, in 2018. More than one-third of U.S. consumers have increased seafood consumption over the last five years. However, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) reported in 2020 that over one-third of fisheries are operating at unsustainable levels. Therein lies the challenge: More people want to eat more seafood, but overfishing is a growing problem around the world, putting ocean health at risk.

Seafood has countless health benefits and is a critical source of nutrition for several billion people around the world. It’s more important than ever that fishing is done in an environmentally sustainable way so that this regenerative resource can continue to be productive to ensure healthy ocean ecosystems, and for future generations of seafood consumers.

Tiny shrimp, big impact

The good news is that every day, fisheries around the globe are working hard to meet stringent requirements to gain third-party sustainability certification. Nearly three-quarters of consumers reported that they trust third party claims by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) found on seafood product packaging, and 66 percent of U.S. and Canadian shoppers agree that retailers’ and brands’ claims about sustainability and the environment need to be clearly labeled by an independent organization, such as the MSC. Fish harvesters and boat operators put in tireless work to ensure fishing is done in a way that protects fish populations and that they minimize impact on ocean habitats, and meet all local and regional management requirements so they are responsive to changing conditions on the water. One of those fisheries is the Oregon and Washington pink shrimp fishery.

Research by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted in 2014 found that placing LED lighting on shrimp nets reduces unwanted catch of eulachon or candle fish — a small, silvery fish listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act — by 80 to 90 percent. By 2018, 100 percent of vessels in the area adopted the use of LED lights. This method has spread to shrimp fisheries across the U.S. Pacific coast, and bycatch of eulachon has plummeted. The Oregon and Washington pink shrimp fishery is just one of more than 450 fisheries — 32 in the U.S. alone — that meets the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard for sustainable fishing.

The MSC program is built with input from scientists, the fishing industry and conservation groups and reflects the most up-to-date understanding of internationally accepted fisheries science and management. Consumers and food service providers have an important role to play, too. By choosing blue foods with the MSC label, they can let brands, retailers and other supply chain companies know that certified sustainable seafood is an in-demand and valuable product. Whether they’re making this choice for health reasons, the health of the ocean or to support fishing communities, shoppers and food decision makers become part of a virtuous circle, helping to protect the productivity and health of our oceans. The MSC approach means everyone can play a part in protecting fish populations while enjoying seafood and making a positive impact on ocean ecosystems.

Supporting food security, communities and a healthy ocean

We may focus on our health and our wallet when we make food choices, but our choices cause ripple effects with global impacts. Blue foods help to achieve ambitious global goals such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals of eliminating hunger and improving health (SDGs 2 and 3), increasing the sustainability of oceans, water, climate and land (SDGs 6, 13, 14 and 15), and achieving gender equality, improving livelihoods and reducing inequalities (SDGs 5, 8 and 10).

Hopefully headlines reflecting the importance of sustainably harvested blue foods will flood the news cycles helping people to feel empowered to make smart choices for themselves and the planet. Choosing sustainably caught wild seafood and becoming part of the virtuous circle helps to support global food security, coastal communities and the health of our oceans. That means we can all enjoy our sustainably caught pink shrimp, salmon filets and calamari today and long into the future.

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