Food Trends 2019: Sustainable Seafood

Here is our seventh article in our Food Trends for 2019 series. In this series, we will discuss what we think of the hottest food trends from a Registered Dietitian’s perspective. Are these food trends here to stay or will they be gone next year like many one hit wonders? Today’s Topic: Sustainable Seafood

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability has been gaining much attention recently as more people become concerned about climate change and a rising global population. We hear the word all of the time, but what does it actually mean?

According to the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable development includes waste reduction and recycling, renewable energy resources, reduction of greenhouse gases, and urban planning with increased green spaces to wildlife.

Sustainability and Diet

Recently, the EAT-Lancet Commission published a report on sustainable diets, and what the optimal diet would be to reduce the negative effects of our food system on our ecosystem and ourselves. The proposed diet is higher in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, moderate dairy, and fat mostly from unsaturated plant sources. The report also recommends protein sources primarily from plants, fish or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids, optional modest intake of poultry and eggs, and little to no intake of red meat. This type of diet would eliminate many of the sustainability concerns about food production.

Sustainable seafood practices

What about Sustainable Seafood?

While seafood has a lower environmental impact when compared to other types of animal protein (e.g. beef or pork), providing enough seafood to feed the globe presents problems of its own.

Currently, about 90% of wild fish stocks around the globe are either overfished (~28% of marine fish stocks) or fished at capacity (~60% of marine fish stocks). This means that many wild fish and seafood species are endangered, and are unable to catch up with the demand for seafood around the globe.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing poses a significant problem for maintaining sustainable levels of fish in the wild and contributing to overfishing. Current fishing practices that catch unwanted species or fish too small to sell (otherwise known as bycatch), can unintentionally kill greater numbers of marine life and disrupt marine ecosystems.

A Solution for Sustainable Seafood

Aquaculture, otherwise known as the farming of food fish and aquatic plants, is a way that we can conserve wildlife while providing seafood to a global population, especially those that primarily depend on seafood as a protein and micronutrient source. In 2016, aquaculture represented 47% of global fish production and is expected to continue to grow in the future.

 As aquaculture becomes more prevalent, it is important to choose sources that are farmed responsibly and sustainably. Factors like feed-dependent fish, displacement of native fish and marine wildlife, and potential habitat destruction justify the need for sustainable practices. If we are able to rely on sustainable fishing, it can help moderate environmental impact on our waters, manage future prices of seafood, and maintain the fishing industry for future fishers and food production.

So what can you do to choose more sustainable seafood?

Several organizations and databases include information on sustainable seafood based on region and farm-raised vs wild-caught. One example of a database for sustainable seafood is the FishWatch database that gives up-to-date information on wild and farmed fish around the United States. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program has a website and app where you can search for types of fish and marine life, how they are farmed, and where they are farmed.

If you prefer a face to face method, ask restaurants how their seafood was sourced and if they buy from sustainable fisheries. You can also inquire about seafood sources at farmers or fish markets – many markets try to promote local and sustainably raised seafood to help the economy and environment. In pursuit of sustainable seafood, you may end up trying something new!

Sustainable seafood is not only a trend for 2019, but a trend that will likely be gaining further prominence in the immediate future.