We know that earth’s ecosystems and wildlife are not as healthy and ecologically sound as they were just a few decades ago. Earth’s oceans are facing the challenges of significant overfishing, the impacts of rapid coastal development, growing amounts of pollutants and contaminants, and the threats of a warming ocean with increasing acidity due to the changing climate. While many of these changes don’t seem to impact our day-to-day lives, consider the fact that seafood is an important source of protein for 3 billion people around the world and yet 1/3rd of the world’s fish stocks are overfished. Seafood consumption will only continue to rise with growing global populations.
As we continue to experience changes in our climate, which has an impact on agricultural production, more people worldwide will rely on seafood for sustenance. As consumers, overfishing affects the quality as well as the quantity of the fish we eat when we do not give depleted stocks a chance to recover and flourish.
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre developed the Ocean Wise® program in 2005 to raise much-needed awareness about overfishing and the need to consume more sustainable seafood as a way to let vulnerable seafood stocks recover. It started small, as many movements do. Sixteen Vancouver chefs worked together with Ocean Wise to fight for something they truly believed in: the need to conserve our oceans and the precious, yet diminishing, life they hold. We asked ourselves: How could we raise awareness and shift consumers from choosing the popular seafood items that largely come from overexploited stocks to sustainable, equally delicious seafood choices they had not yet tried? And more importantly, how do we make it easy for them to do it?
So began a long-term effort to revolutionize the way Canadians think about their seafood. Across Canada, leading chefs, restaurant owners, markets and suppliers have joined the Ocean Wise Seafood program with the commitment to source sustainable seafood and also clearly label ocean-friendly choices with the Ocean Wise symbol. This symbol indicates to consumers that the seafood choice on menus or in markets is caught in an ecologically sustainable way.
When making Ocean Wise seafood assessments on wild fisheries, Ocean Wise Seafood scores fisheries on four criteria: impact on the stock, impact on other species, effectiveness of management measures and impact on surrounding habitats. All of these assessments undergo, at minimum, three rounds of peer review followed by an external oversight process to ensure the content is accurate. Ocean Wise Seafood partners receive ongoing scientific updates on seafood assessments to guide their purchasing decisions. As well, the team regularly connects with partners to discuss sustainable options and ongoing changes in assessments.
Because of the ebb and flow of Canada’s fisheries this relationship takes constant dialogue – Ocean Wise Seafood partners are the first to dive in with innovations like experimental recipes that encourage consumers to eat further down the food chain, such as gooseneck barnacles, to competing in ocean-friendly collaborative events, like the Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown, to help raise awareness and engage consumers in a positive way.
The journey to sustainability can be a long one. It’s the collaborative efforts of many organizations across the globe, including Ocean Wise, that are all encouraging small actions to confront a massive challenge. Collectively, we are moving the needle on sustainability and we need more people to consider how even a seemingly small decision – including choosing Ocean Wise seafood for your next meal – contributes to restoring the health of our seafood stocks and our oceans.
Overfishing is one of the biggest threat to our oceans. We depend on healthy oceans and it’s increasingly apparent that they now depend on us.
By Ann-Marie Copping, Ocean Wise Manager at Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre
Updates by Isabella Sulpizio, Senior Accounts Specialist for the Ocean Wise Seafood program, now part of the Ocean Wise Conservation Association. www.ocean.org