Photo: Sustainable Seafood all the talk in Boston

(Credit: Marine Stewardship Council via Flickr)

The Boston Seafood Show bills itself as the largest North American Expo for seafood. It's a good indicator of what's happening in the seafood industry. This is where you'll find over 19,000 buyers, suppliers, importers, exporters and us — the conservation groups influencing the way we do business and protect our oceans.

I've been involved in this movement since its inception. I've watched as we've moved from sustainable seafood being a 'nice idea' to a fully integrated topic within every area of industry discussion. Not only are we on the conference agenda, but industry representatives can no longer fail to appreciate the imperative of changing the seafood business — before it's too late.

Our successes have come after a lot of hard work, coalition building, educating and persistence. We're asking businesses to become part of a sustainable industry that sells only environmentally responsible seafood. In comparison to food-based organic certification schemes which have been developed over 25 years, sustainable seafood schemes have only been underway for about six. You would expect a diversity of perspectives on what a credible eco-label for seafood needs to include, and we've been there to make sure the bar for certification stays as high as possible.

Internationally, these sorts of discussions with European and North American partners are taking place through the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative, of which I'm a member.

There are no simple answers: seafood is a global commodity touched by countless systems. From consumers who don't understand the various labels they see on their supermarket fish, to industry and conservation groups working to agree on credible sustainability certifications. We're contending with multiple certification schemes, with various strengths and weaknesses. Imagine how much easier it would be if we had one benchmark we all agreed on.

Meanwhile, the pressures on our oceans remain. About 57 per cent of seafood consumed around the world is caught in the wild. As we know, many fisheries are fished at or beyond capacity. To meet the demand for seafood, aquaculture around the world has increased 86 per cent in the last decade.

While we've come a long way in educating people about the need to run sustainable fisheries and buy sustainable products, the focus now needs to be on the rigour of certification to improve our fisheries and aquaculture practices, remove the strain on our oceans and leave behind a sustainable supply of fish.

I'm proud of our contribution to a national project called SeaChoice. Working with our industry partners, discussion by discussion, we're shining a bright light to navigate some foggy seas.

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By Bill Wareham, Science Projects Manager

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