Labels declaring seafood “sustainable” give us comfort we’re consuming ethically, but tracing the true environmental toll tells a different story – mostly
10 February 2021
THE fish counter at my local supermarket has a chalkboard displaying how many different species are on sale on any given day. It is usually in the 20s, though sometimes creeps above 30. As well as staples such as cod, salmon and mackerel, it often has trout, sea bass, monkfish, langoustines, tuna, scallops, squid, catfish and flatfish.
The chiller cabinet next door has more: jellied eels and cockles in jars, mussels from Ireland, crab from Indonesia, prawns from Ecuador. In the canned goods section I can also find oysters from South Korea, crab meat from Vietnam, anchovies from the Pacific Ocean, sardines from the north Atlantic Ocean and tuna from the Indian Ocean. The freezers have yet more.
This abundance makes my head swim. I don’t eat mammal or bird meat, but I do eat seafood, and I want to consume it as ethically and sustainably as possible. But I worry about overfishing and the environmental impacts of salmon farms and shrimp ponds. Most of the products on offer bear a label certifying that they were caught or farmed sustainably, or at least “responsibly”. What does that mean? Who checks? Is it even possible? In other words, can I eat fish with a clear conscience?
Seafood is big business. Every year we collectively eat more than 155 million tonnes, about half of it wild-caught and half farmed. To put that in perspective, we eat about 320 million tonnes of land-reared meat a year. Yet consumption of fish is growing faster than that of meat – around 3.1 per cent a year versus 2.1 per cent. Since 1950, human …