Climate change is becoming an evermore concerning topic in the minds of consumers. As evidence continues to show that animal agriculture is one of the most unsustainable practices hurting our environment, many individuals are choosing to skip chicken and red meat for sustainable seafood for more eco-friendly options.

Going Pescetarian is a solution for some who can't give up meat but still want to eat more mindfully. However, this form of dieting still ignores the ethical and environmental issues of consuming seafood.

While it's true wild seafood doesn’t strain our water systems or produce as much greenhouse gases as land animals, is there really such a thing as sustainable seafood?

Rethinking Your Tuna Tataki

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Hui Lin

Tuna, known for its delicious texture in sushi, is one of the most popular fish, but it’s also one of the most critically overfished.  The Pacific Bluefin tuna population in particular has dropped to 97% pre-fishing levels, or original un-fished population size, but is still not listed as endangered according to the US Endangered Species List.

If government agencies can’t guarantee protection for these fish, then how can consumers try to reduce their impact on the survival of their favorite fish species?  

Seek the Certified "Sustainable” Seafood

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Nicole Landry

If you shop for fish at your local grocery store, you may have noticed the blue Marine Stewardship Council label on some of the packaging. The MSC is one of the more well-known certifications for wild seafood that was caught using measures that do not harm the growth of future populations.

These labels help consumers feel better about the fish they are buying, so they are often willing to pay a higher price. Their money then goes to support fisheries that are using sustainable measures. 

But How Accurate Are These Labels?

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Dea Uy

Some scientists argue that the MSC has been offering labels to fisheries without total proof that they are sustainable. The Marine Stewardship Council is a private, non-profit, international organization, which means it is not regulated by any specific government or scientific organization.

While they often work in accordance with the UN, the MSC often diverges from scientific recommendations. For instance, the MSC approved a Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish fishery as sustainable, despite the fact that scientists consider the species over-exploited and under-studied.

Despite the noble intentions of the MSC, they might be undermining both their own efforts and consumers' efforts to support sustainable seafood industries.  

So why are “Sustainable seafood” labels misleading?

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Nicole Landry

As consumers become more environmentally mindful, new businesses emerge to satisfy their demand for more product source information.

In the case of the MSC, one biologist argued that the sheer quantity of fisheries applying for certification led to the reduction in the MSC's standards. However, the MSC is not the only organization certifying sustainable seafood.  

The Monterey Bay Aquarium and Greenpeace are just two `other organizations that specialize in offering consumers seafood shopping recommendations by species, rather than brand or fishery. However, these different groups don’t always agree on the same choices. For example, Monterey Bay labels Rockfish (aka Redfish) as the "Best Choice", while Greenpeace lists it under their "Red List" for US markets.

Because these organizations receive funding from retailers looking for advice and from the campaign contribution of worrisome consumers, there may be an incentive to keep the information on US fisheries misleading and overly critically. 

Although many would like to believe that eating more seafood can prevent more damage to the environment, the truth is that consumers have no accurate way of knowing that their fish is guaranteed "sustainable." Until seafood labeling becomes more reliable, maybe the smartest seafood choice is to leave the fish in the ocean.