By Scott Wallace, Sustainable fisheries analyst

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When I purchase fair trade coffee or organic apples, I trust that the labels reflect the production system they come from — and my value for purchasing sustainable food. So how about "sustainable" seafood labels?

One of my roles at the Foundation is to track which wild marine species are caught and sold as eco-labelled seafood at the fish counter. Eco-labelling of seafood has become increasingly common — and important — as concern grows over our ocean's fragile health.

Eco-labels are supposed to work by fostering a market for sustainable seafood products. If consumers care about the issues and can identify the best products, they will preferentially buy them (possibly at a premium price), and that creates an economic incentive for industry to shift to better ecological practices.

Many fisheries deserve a sustainability label. They only harvest seafood that comes from healthy populations, and in a way that doesn't cause significant harm to other species or marine ecosystems. Other fisheries don't yet meet those standards but are being labelled as sustainable. Consider the recent Marine Stewardship Council recommendation to certify Fraser River sockeye salmon, which are undergoing a judicial inquiry into their decline. Likewise, Canada's longline fishery for swordfish is poised to receive an eco-label despite the fact that it kills hundreds of endangered loggerhead sea turtles each year.

Strong standards are critical if sustainability certifications and eco-labels are going to help protect our oceans. A certification's true value lies in its ability to distinguish good practices from poor ones, and create incentives for change.

As part of our involvement with SeaChoice, the David Suzuki Foundation is working to make sure that consumers can trust these labels so that you can make an easy choice to protect our oceans at the grocery store or restaurant.

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