Hashtags and sustainable seafood.

Photo: @tessatham via Instagram

Photo: @tessatham via Instagram

Hey social media junkie, looks like you’ve got the formula perfected for the ultimate Instagram. Lighting, angles, hashtags and filters flawlessly crafted for that jaw dropping, eye bulging, mouth-watering reaction. You have unleashed your inner Martha Stewart, but have you made your inner David Suzuki proud? Equally as important as which filter to bestow on your prized masterpiece (I’m a fan of Earlybird), is how and where your food was sourced.

This article is the first in a series of articles about sustainable seafood. By addressing current problems, tackling misconceptions and outlining existing measures and success stories, it is my hope to raise awareness of the overfishing in our oceans, and to draw attention to the dire need for change and action.

Why is seafood eco-certification important?

Did you know that if the world continues with its current fishing practices, commercial fisheries will deplete fish stocks by 2048? As technology advances, so does our capability to extract more from the ocean with less effort. While seafood consumption has doubled since the 1970s, fish populations have dwindled to the last 10%. Yet in this current state of alarm and urgency, it is often difficult to translate these issues happening below the surface to remain relevant in our everyday lives. As captured in Mission Blue, an ocean conservation documentary: “The sad fact is the ocean could be empty but it’ll still look the same. It’s a very hard thing to convey what’s happening, how it will affect you personally […] as the ocean is dying, the surface looks the same, the waves look the same.”

What is seafood eco-certification?

Living in a health conscious, environmentally friendly, first world society, many are familiar with terms like organic, vegan and fair trade. In recent years (less than two decades), seafood has joined this eco-certification movement with programs like OceanWise, Marine Stewardship Council and SeaChoice. At present, there exist a plethora of seafood eco-certification programs (more on this in a subsequent article) that function by ranking products on a traffic light system. Green label indicates excellent sustainability, yellow label are designated to good alternatives and red label marks unsustainable products. By creating easily accessible information about a product’s sustainability, it inspires consumers to make more informed decision about their food choices, creating incentives for fishing industries to catch more responsibly.

Where has it been successful?

We observe the effectiveness locally in British Columbia, where Mr. Bruce Turris, executive manager of the Canadian Groundfish Research and Conservation Society, explained that eco-labelling was one of the driving factors behind the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan. There have been several progressive changes implemented by this plan such as reducing fishing zone and limiting incidental coral catch. Furthermore, eco-certification programs like OceanWise have observed their considerable expansion in recent years. Theodora Geach from the Vancouver Aquarium mentions that OceanWise's success is due, in part, to the growth of 500 partners across 3000 locations, with 73 new partners in 2013.

Where do we need to improve on?

While it may seem that eco-certification is the solution to the world’s overfishing issue, it is vital to be aware that these initiatives do have their limits. The danger arises if consumers are misled into believing that eating eco-certified seafood will singlehandedly solve the world’s overfishing issue. As eco-certification programs are mainly targeted to western countries, which only account for a small demographic of seafood consumers worldwide, their impact on a global scale is often questioned

Moving forward

My purpose is not to undermine the work of such initiatives (they are a step in the right direction), but to suggest the need to complement the movement with education and activism. Perhaps by engaging in vital conversations and utilizing social media, we can extend the breath of our impact and build a more politically involved society. By holding our government responsible to their actions (or lack of actions), can we stand a fighting chance at ending overfishing. So go ahead… throw on that Earlybird and a shameless amount of hashtags, it is a step towards saving our oceans. #sustainableseafood #oceanwise #savetheocean