To eat fish or not to eat fish, that’s the wrong question

As a Marine Biologist myself, nothing in the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy was new or novel to me and highlighted issues I have been researching well before they became mainstream. However, I still found it extremely difficult to watch as it had no helpful messages for consumers apart from ‘don’t eat fish’ and failed to mention any realistic solutions.

It provided a skewed representation of what are undoubtedly very serious and worrying issues. I strongly believe though that avoiding the problem will not help solve it. We need to be sourcing our fish responsibly to increase sustainable demand and support fishing industries that invest in sustainable equipment and cause the least environmental damage possible.

Two billion people rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein. ‘Don’t eat fish’ is not a helpful message, especially when implying it is the global solution. Due to the overfishing of certain species it is extremely important to broaden our eating habits and move away from the popular big 5 species consumed in the UK (salmon, tuna, cod, haddock, prawns) to take the pressure off these species. Familiarise yourself with the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Good Fish Guide or download it to your phone. It will help you to move away from supporting unsustainable practices, stop sourcing and serving fish rated 4-5 and make sustainable switches (1-3) to help restore our oceans. It is important to understand not only WHAT you are buying to ensure stock levels are maintained but also HOW and WHERE it has been caught and determine bycatch levels.

So called “ecolabels” can certainly be misleading. The documentary spoke about the ‘dolphin friendly’ label. The issue here isn’t so much the impact on dolphins as vessels are not being deployed around pods of dolphins in order to capture shoals of tuna. Consumers can be led into thinking that if it’s not hurting dolphins, it must be okay, but we need to remember all the other marine species that can be harmed such as whales, sharks and turtles. In terms of a solution, the film did not talk about ‘pole and line’ fishing which sees one tuna caught at a time. This is the best way to know that tuna has been caught with no bycatch.

No certification scheme provides a perfect solution. Those like the Marine Stewardship’s blue tick does provide a good framework and baseline for many fisheries and helped many industries take measures to improve their sustainable management. If we denounce all certifications as redundant or worse, we risk playing into the hands of food fraudsters and a totally unregulated regime that would see far worse damage to stocks and the environments in which they live.  

The issues are not limited to wild fish and the film also tackled the challenges facing aquaculture and salmon farming, in particular. I’ve written previously on this topic. Read that blog here.

There’s no question that Seaspiracy has raised awareness around seafood sustainability showing the many issues facing the global fishing industry. It did not however mention the positive steps we can take, like ensuring we are responsible as chefs, purchasing and procurement professionals as well of course as consumers, for what we purchase and how regularly we eat seafood.

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