Since 1956, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre has been working to engage and inform the public on marine life and human impact on the oceans. The Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise™ program, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2015, was developed simply as a natural progression of the Aquarium’s mission. Some people may find it strange for an aquarium to recommend eating fish, but overfishing remains one of the biggest threats to the health of the world’s oceans. Before Ocean Wise, there was little consistent information for those seafood consumers who wanted to know about the ecological impacts of their dinner.

Recent research suggests that the state of fish stocks globally is poor and not improving. In Canada, a report released by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in early 2016 showed that less than half the stocks in our waters are considered healthy. In addition to concerns of overfishing, investigative journalism reports from the last couple years have resulted in increased awareness of human rights abuses and illegal operations in certain fishing sectors. Concerns over the environmental impacts of certain types of aquaculture facilities, such as open-net farming, remain. All of this information suggests that when we think about the ecological impacts of fisheries and aquaculture operations there are numerous aspects to consider and at times we can be faced with information overload. Thus, without a trustworthy evaluation metric or standard upon which people can rely, it can be virtually impossible to know which seafood products to eat and which ones to avoid.

Ocean Wise helps consumers think about “fish” in less generic terms. Photo credit: CinCin restaurant — Sustainably caught albacore tuna

Sustainably caught albacore tuna — Ocean Wise helps consumers think about “fish” in less generic terms. Photo credit: CinCin restaurant

When Chef Rob Clark started asking questions about sustainable seafood, the global fisheries catch had already been declining for nearly a decade. Rob, who was the head chef of C Restaurant in Vancouver at the time, had heard differing accounts of what species he should and should not be feeding the restaurant’s guests. Determined to serve only seafood that had a low impact on the environment, Rob approached the Vancouver Aquarium for help. A year later, with 16 founding restaurants in Vancouver, the Ocean Wise program was brought to life.

Ocean Wise chef ambassadors at this year’s Night At The Aquarium (from left to right: Warren Barr, James Walt, Chris Whitaker, Frank Pabst, Ned Bell and Rob Clark).

Ocean Wise chef ambassadors at this year’s Night At The Aquarium (from left to right: Warren Barr, James Walt, Chris Whitaker, Frank Pabst, Ned Bell and Rob Clark).

Not only was this a major step forward in terms of environmental stewardship for those restaurants but it helped legitimize the sourcing concerns held by the many chefs. Rob explains, “The launch of Ocean Wise was the most significant moment in the movement of sustainable seafood in Canada. Before Ocean Wise, suppliers didn’t take fisheries issues seriously.”

Today, Ocean Wise has more than 675 businesses partners (from suppliers to fishers and everything in between) and has 770 seafood recommendations that help fill this void. Since 2012, when the first Chinese restaurant joined the program, Ocean Wise has made a conscious effort to work with a diverse group of restaurants. Seeing a need to promote locally-sourced seafood as well, the program is also working toward having more Canadian recommendations through in-house assessments for small-scale fisheries in our own country.

Ocean Wise encourages chefs to get creative with different types of sustainable seafood. Here, Octopus à la plancha from Boulevard in Vancouver.

Ocean Wise Octopus à la plancha from Boulevard in Vancouver served during the Night At The Aquarium fundraising gala.

From climate change to pollution to overfishing, our oceans are faced with immense anthropogenic threats, and we are constantly reminded of the negative impacts we’re having on the environment that covers three-quarters of our planet. Yet, instead of harping on the negatives, Ocean Wise seeks to promote good fisheries and encourage people to make decisions with the best available information. The ocean is a resilient environment and there are simple ways we can all help protect the fish we have left (while also supporting fishers who are fishing responsibly) as long as we are willing to put in a bit of effort.

Blog post by Laurenne Schiller, Ocean Wise research analyst at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. 

Overfishing is the single biggest threat facing our oceans today. With nearly 700 partners across Canada, Ocean Wise makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is the Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice. www.oceanwise.ca

 

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