Tiffin Project

Sustainable Seafood

by Hunter Moyes on April 16, 2012

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What is the realistic significance of the Oceanwise and Seachoice campaigns? This is a critique – make no mistake. But know, in advance, that I was volunteering for the David Suzuki Foundation [DSF] for these specific initiatives a week before I wrote this.
So, this is how it works. Please allow me to break it down.

Seachoice is the retail arm of the two campaigns, dealing with high volumes. This program touches your life through what you’d get at a grocery store, en mass. Oceanwise, which has more to do with restaurants and consumer-level interaction, is the lower-volume yet more glamorous of the two. It touches your life through your interactions with restaurants. Both are sustainable aquaculture endeavours leveraged by the Marine Stewardship Council [MSC], the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the The Vancouver Aquarium, and my friends at the DSF. Lots of players are in the game, obviously, but these are the biggest and most relevant to your understanding of this (if you’re not already in the know about sustainable seafood as it relates to you).

Now, Seachoice is its own thing. It’s behind the scenes – so to speak. We won’t get into it. Think of Seachoice as a program that’s held together by back room dealings that are done for your own good. Oceanwise is an interesting subject to dissect. The Oceanwise campaign, as it stands right now, has limited impact potential and questionable gains outside of awareness-based results.

You may know Oceanwise as a little logo that you see sometimes on menus. Most up-scale restaurants will feature the Oceanwise logo – they’ll pay $150 for it. That’s a big part of the campaign’s ability to sustain itself. When you see it on a menu, it means the seafood item highlighted by it came from a sustainable source. Now, this is good – and bad. Overall, I think it’s good.

Cynic critics of sustainable seafood endeavours, specifically at the restaurant level with Oceanwise, point out that these campaigns can be a way for consumers to simply feel better about their already-unsustainable levels of consumption. They then critique further, pointing out that the general public’s wonton appetite for seafood is not discouraged but encouraged by these campaigns – when strictly-governed conservation is what’s really necessary.

There are arguments that Oceanwise, specifically of these two campaigns of the same vein, negates its potential positives through what it must do to make small gains. Over the years, and especially these days, non-government organizations are the target of more and more critique. How easy is it to throw stones at an environmental organization that has to circulate printed material to promote its efforts (regardless of the type of paper), or, say, a sustainable seafood campaign that seems at first glance to be promoting seafood consumption?

There is another argument that points at the restaurants that are Oceanwise-compliant. Most of them are middle-to-upper class establishments that can afford to pay the premium not only to feature the Oceanwise logo on their menus but to pay for the product – coming normally at a premium. These restaurants are easy to discredit because they only represent a small portion of consumption – the upper-middle class and higher. In these communities though, there is a trust that the overall good cancels out the necessary evils along the way. That said – there is also an sense of urgency.

There is merit to these arguments, but I shouldn’t dwell on them because I don’t see them as very credible critiques.

Now, a sustainable source could mean a number of things. To round it down, I’d summarize a sustainable source as a seafood provider that doesn’t accept catch that is acquired in un-ecologically sound ways – such as: methods with minimal levels of “bycatch” (unintended-ly caught sea creatures that don’t survive the catching process and are and thrown overboard because of their market value), methods that are coordinated with spawning seasons as a prime concern, methods targeting stocks that are of a healthy size, methods that avoid bottom trawling or other primitive means that are destructive to marine habitats, and certain types of closed-system aquaculture farming examples. These are all things that you can Google yourself, if you find that you’re interested by this. This is important!

What we need is to just stop eating as much seafood as we do – meat too. When eating out, we do, really – regardless of what our cravings are, or how much we’ve had to drink (it may have happened to me once or twice) – we need to exercise more discipline when it comes to the seafood that we eat. The critics will always say what they want about all the budding sustainable initiatives today. Let them! Who else is going to look out for your best interests? Will your children be able to enjoy seafood? Who else is looking to preserve the marine ecosystems of the world?

You? At the end of the day – you can start with your choices. Your choice matters. Go ahead and ask about that pistachio crusted halibut fillet that you’re about to devour. What’s good for our ecosystems is good for us and our friends and families. What’s the harm in knowing more about what you’re putting into your body?

~ Hunter J. Moyes

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