Understanding fishery designations supports sustainability

Buying seafood responsibly can be incredibly confusing. There are so many hurdles that we, as consumers, must jump in order to be certain we are making the best choices possible. When we hand over our money, we want it to be supporting the people and practices that are good for our personal health, as well as the health of the marine ecosystem. Because the world’s oceans are interlinked and interconnected, it is important to first have a global perspective. Global thinking and participating in a global community is something California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) students learn across all majors.

Worldwide, nearly 90 percent of fish stocks have been either fully exploited, overexploited or depleted according to Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and Peter Thomas, the United Nations Special Envoy for the Ocean.

An exploited fishery is “a fishery that is operating at, or close to, an optimal yield level, with no expected room for further expansion” defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. What this means is that nearly all the world’s fisheries are being fished at a maximum limit that current practices can sustain, which some people in the industry refer to as “peak fish.”

Seafood currently makes up nearly one-fifth of all animal protein consumed in the world, according to Kituyi and Thomas. This is becoming more of a problem as the global population increases, now approaching 8 billion people. Along with a growing global population comes a growing global demand for seafood.

It is important that fish populations are not fished over the limits of current exploitation to meet the increasing global demand for seafood capture, as people around the world depend on their fisheries to survive. The ocean fisheries and aquaculture directly provide for the livelihoods of close to 60 million people. Indirectly, it is estimated that 200 million jobs are connected to fisheries sector, according to the FAO.

The global fisheries present some very real and challenging questions about seafood sourcing. You might be surprised to hear that the answer to these questions might not be to give up seafood entirely. More and more people are changing their diets to exclude land-based meat and to include seafood because of the benefits that seafood brings to the table, both nutritionally and environmentally.

Each week, this column will focus on a different area around seafood sourcing and analyze some of the benefits and impacts. Some of the future topics to look out for are:

  • Aquaculture
  • Farmed vs. wild
  • Seafood labeling
  • Commercial industry of Monterey Bay
  • Sushi from the Otter Express
  • Environmental and nutritional health of seafood
  • A look at our local fishery workforce
  • Policy analysis of California’s commercial fishery
  • The pescatarian diet

Next week, I will be focusing on different fishing and aquaculture practices, and what some of the concerns are for each method.

Have a column idea or story about the fisheries in Monterey Bay? Feel free to email [email protected] with your news, questions or suggestions.

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