Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sustainable Seafood: A Better Choice for Our Seas

Skip that shark meat or turtle egg on your next food adventure. Eating exotic seafood isn't cool.
The fate of our seas depends on what we decide to put on  our plates.
What's Sustainable seafood? It isn’t some fancy trend that celebrity chefs and top restaurateurs abroad started to drive more patrons to their restaurants. Sustainable seafood, in simple terms, is about changing our attitudes as consumers. It is saying no to consumption of endangered fish species and dwindling marine stocks as well as illegal and unsustainable fishing practices.

According to Mr. Gregg Yan, Communications and Media Manager of the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Philippines), Filipinos need to practice responsible consumption, sourcing and culture of marine resources. Different sectors of Philippine society must take action to protect our dwindling marine species. WWF-Philippines, through The Better Choice (TBC) Sustainable Seafood Campaign, provides general and simple guidelines for consumers in choosing sustainable seafood alternatives (e.g., seafood caught and farmed responsibly) to help currently threatened stocks recover.

Eat this, not that
Whether buying seafood from the market or grocery, ordering seafood from a restaurant or trying a local dish in one’s trip, choosing sustainable seafood is the best way to improve marine life and prevent the loss of major commercial fish species. According to Mr. Yan, when buying or ordering seafood, we should ask ourselves about its value, source and its impacts on the environment. Generally, we should avoid consuming these endangered or vulnerable species:
  • All sharks
  • All rays
  • Sea turtles and turtle eggs
  • Napoleon Wrasse (Mameng)
  • Dolphins
  • Sea cows (Dugong)
  • Bluefin Tuna
  • Sea Bass
  • Cod
  • Giant Clams
  Baby sharks should be on the sea, not in a restaurant's fish tank.
(Photo by Gregg Yan/WWF-Philippines)
We must remember that suppliers react to demand. According to Mr. Yan, “If you are a supplier and you know you’re going to fetch around $100 per kilogramme for an exotic fish, then you might be more willing to break the law and scour more reefs to meet consumer demand.” Thus, the fates of these threatened marine species depend on what we choose to buy and put on our plates.

It would also help to change our attitudes towards rare or exotic seafood. Eating exotic seafood like shark’s fin or giant clams is not exactly more enjoyable than consuming more common species like mackerel or oysters. In fact, TIME magazine reported two years ago that a growing number of top chefs in Europe have scrapped endangered fish like Bluefin tuna and codfish off their menus and have replaced them with lesser known seafood species that are just as tasty and far more plentiful. This just goes to show that the demand for these protected species has nothing to do with taste but with the value people place on them. Here in the Philippines, WWF encourages people to choose:
  •        Freshwater fish over marine fish
  •        Sustainably-cultured fish over wild-caught fish
  •        Carnivores over herbivores
  •        Adult fish over juvenile fish
  •        Groupers or snappers over Napoleon Wrasse (Mameng)
  •        Yellow fin or Bigeye tuna over Bluefin tuna
  •        Tilapia over Chilean Seabass
  •        Faux shark fins over the real ones
Eating yellow fin tuna is the better choice for our seas.
(Photo by Gregg Yan/WWF-Philippines)
When we’re out of the country
Making the right choice doesn’t end when we go out of town or travel to another country. If you have been following the news, you are most likely aware that the Philippines is one of the suppliers of endangered marine species and marine ornamentals, with most of them sourced through destructive, illegal and unsustainable methods.

We have to make a conscious effort to avoid patronizing businesses that offer products made from threatened species.  This means we should skip that hotel in Hong Kong or Singapore offering shark’s fin soup, even if its restaurant has a Michelin star. It also means we should not eat at those live reef fish restaurants popular in China and other Asian countries. Although going to those establishments symbolize luxury and prestige, dining at those restaurants encourages wasteful and unsustainable use of our sea stocks.

We have to tell those offering us a seafood banquet after our island-hopping tour or diving expedition that we won’t be eating any endangered fish or anything caught through illegal fishing methods. It doesn’t mean that when the food we will be eating was caught by local fisherman that it is the right choice. We have to find out if these were caught using sustainable fishing methods. Most importantly, we should not buy any seafood taken from marine-protected areas.

Let our wallets do the talking
When we choose to support sustainable seafood by making better choices, we start changing things from the bottom up. Because at the end of the day - we, the consumers, are the driving force of the seafood industry. Whenever we make a better choice, we not only help our seas become healthy, we also support the rest of the 40 million Filipinos who depend on the sea for food and livelihood. In short, we support our country’s future. 

This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for The Sea-Ex Navigator: Celebrating the Nautical Lifestyle. The original text was first published at Save the Philippine Seas where I serve as a volunteer writer. Acknowledgment to WWF-Philippines and Mr. Gregg Yan for information and photos used for this article. 

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  1. This is very informative. Thanks a lot for sharing, Rain.

    1. Welcome, just my own little way of supporting the conservation of our seas. Thanks for the comment too. :-)


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