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Choosing Sustainable Seafood

Updated on 27. Dec. 2018

Fish has been a popular protein choice for many, many years. From sushi to the British classic fish and chips, seafood has found its way into many different cuisines all over the world. However, not everyone is thinking about the resource their fish is coming from and how it was caught.

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Fishing is a global business, generating billions of dollars every year.1 The appetite for fish is going on at the expense of our fish populations and oceans. It may seem that there is unlimited fish in the ocean, however, our habits of consumption have led to overfishing. The unregulated management of fishing has brought populations of different species to all time lows.2 Nearly 80 percent of the world’s underwater life is fully fished, exploited or is recovering from human consumption.3

How do we solve the problem? Should we all stop eating fish?

It might seem difficult to answer these questions and to stop the decline of populations. However, at least raising awareness of the circumstances can be one step in the right direction. Each one of us can contribute to help save the marine population simply by making better, more sustainable choices.

What is a sustainable catch?

Sustainable catch can be defined as a way of fishing, which makes sure that the amount of fish that is caught is small enough to maintain a healthy population in our oceans. Thereby, the population is not endangered by overfishing and only as much as the population can give and is able to reproduce is taken.4

It is necessary to adapt the amount of catch to the current population, which is constantly changing. Meaning there cannot be a set number of fish to be caught each season, that number needs to be fluctuating with the fish population in order to be sustainably harvested. In addition, the way of fishing should not harm the natural environment of the population harvested.

Which species are particularly in danger?

Species that are particularly in danger are the Atlantic Halibut, which is mostly caught as bycatch and the numbers do not seem to be able to recover.

Another endangered species is the Beluga Sturgeon, which is mostly famous for its eggs, also known as “true caviar”. One of the biggest problems in raising their population is that they do not reach sexual maturity until they are 20-25 years old, which is why the decline in the number of population is expected to continue as they continue to be harvested and overfished.

The most known endangered fish is the Bluefin Tuna, which is mostly eaten in Japan, as it is favored for sushi. It is very popular for fisherman as it reaches prices up to $100,000. However, experts estimate that the species will become extinct if the fishing continues at its current rate.5

Another fish is the Sea Bass. It is one of the most endangered species in the Mediterranean and will become extinct if there is no change in the way it is harvested.6

According to the WWF, following fish should be avoided:
  • Tuna, including Albacore, Bigeye, and Bluefin (but excluding Skipjack)
  • Haddock (except line-caught Icelandic)
  • European Hake
  • Monkfish
  • Atlantic salmon (wild and farmed)
  • Swordfish
  • Marlin7

(Bycatch is another problem, as it affects not only the fish that are supposed to be caught but also affects other marine life like turtles, sharks or dolphins as they can end up in the fishing net as well.)

What to buy and what labels to look for?

If you are in the supermarket and are looking for sustainable fish there are official labels by non-profit organizations that companies can commit to. These labels have certain guidelines, which the company has to fulfill in order to be allowed to feature the label on their packaging.

One of the most famous labels is the MSC label, which stands for Marine Stewardship Council Certification. It is a non-profit organization that was found to highlight the problem of unsustainable fishing and to create a fish-market for the future, with less overfishing. Every product that is labeled with the MSC label, guarantees that the company is fishing sustainable fish stocks, is minimizing environmental impact and is managing their practices effectively.8

A great resource when shopping for seafood is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide

Can I buy farmed fish?

Another way of at least saving wild populations is to resort to aquacultures, which have been raised and harvested in artificial habitats. Salmon and shrimp can be harvested on farms especially well. However, responsible growth has to be kept in mind, as aquacultures are an artificial way to harvest fish and are not the ideal way of fishing. Non-profit organizations like WWF are claiming it is their task to move those farms into a mindful production.9

Many fish are fed with chemicals in order to keep them healthy, no different to the mass production of meat.

Nonetheless, oysters and mussels are good for farming, as they filter water and have to be collected by hand, which does not cause any environmental harm. Trout, as a freshwater fish, can be farmed quite easy as it can be maintained in a nearly closed system, which makes it easier to regulate diseases. In addition, it does not harm other species in their environment.

However, it has to be kept in mind that antibiotics or colorants are added to the feed to keep the population healthy.10

What fish is sustainable?

Bream is mostly found in the northern European seas but can also be farmed. Its taste and texture is similar to Bass and is perfect for grilling, steaming or pan-frying.

Crab can be caught relatively selectively, which is why less environment is harmed and the risk of bycatch is very low. They are mostly harvested in the UK.11

Cod is very mild tasting and therefore perfect for many different recipes. When you buy Cod it is important to look for a reliable source or the MSC logo.

Halibut is another delicious fish, which can be bought all around the world.12

What is important is that you look for a reliable source and where the fish is coming from. Make sure that you are buying the most sustainable fish you can find, and do not hesitate to ask your fishmonger which is the best choice for your needs.

Check out some of our favorite seafood recipes: 

  1. Fish Fillets with Almond Crust
  2. Baked Salmon
  3. Grilled Sea Bream 
  4. Basmati Rice with Crab Meat

What you can do

It is on us to try and stop the problem of overfishing. Nowadays there are many ways of taking action against the problem. A simple start can be made by trying to cut down the amount of fish you are eating. In addition, you can look for specific labels on the packaging as MSC, as some companies dedicated their philosophy more towards sustainable catch.

Try to find the source of your fish. Which country does it come from or where was it harvested? How was the fish caught? Was it farmed?

In general, it is important to be aware when you are buying fish or seafood. Try to eat a little less and it will have an impact. Everyone can make a difference towards a more sustainable fish industry and a healthy marine population.


1. Fish, Markets, and Fishermen: The Economics Of Overfishing, By Suzanne Iudicello, Michael L. Weber, Robert Wieland p.12

2. “Wild Seafood.” Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation, n.d. Web.

3. “Frequently Asked Questions about Sustainable Seafood.” Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods Market, n.d. Web.

4. Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know?, By Ray Hilborn, p. 2

5. “Top 10 Most Endangered Fish Species.” HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks, 15 May 2012. Web.

6. Gray, Louise. “Mediterranean Fish in Danger of Going Extinct.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 19 Apr. 2011. Web.

7. “Sustainable Seafood - FAQ.” Greenpeace UK. Greenpeace , 9 Dec. 2011. Web.

8. “MSC Fisheries Standard.” Marine Stewardship Council. Marine Stewardship Council, n.d. Web.

9. “Farmed Seafood - Farmed Salmon.” World Wildlife Fund, n.d. Web.

10. Wilder, Andrew. “Choosing Sustainable Seafood - Eating Rules.” Eating Rules. Andrew Wilder, 24 Oct. 2012. Web.

11. “Good Fish Guide - Fish Finder.” Marine Conservation Society. Marine Conservation Society, n.d. Web.

12. “Halibut.” Marine Stewardship Council. Marine Stewardship Council, n.d. Web.

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