How to Find Sustainably Sourced Seafood

Derek Ma Oct 22, 2023
9 People Read
Table of Contents
  1. Overfishing - The Silent Threat To Our Oceans
  2. Consequences of Overfishing
  3. Success Stories in Overfishing Management
  4. Aquaculture Spotlight: Farmed Shrimp
  5. Coastal Wetlands Problem
    1. Freshwater problem
    2. Pollution problem
    3. Unsustainable problem
  6. Seafood Watch
  7. Consumer guide
  8. Consumer labels and certifications

Sustainability has become a critical factor in our everyday lives. From reducing waste to conserving energy, people are making conscious choices to protect the environment.

One area where sustainability is gaining significant attention is in the sourcing of seafood. 

With overfishing and destructive fishing practices threatening marine ecosystems, it is crucial to find and support sustainable seafood options. 

In this article, we will explore how you can find sustainably sourced seafood and make responsible choices to protect our oceans. 

Overfishing - The Silent Threat To Our Oceans

In the vast expanse of our oceans, beneath the shimmering surface lies a crisis that has been silently escalating for decades – overfishing. 

Overfishing, simply put, occurs when the rate of fishing exceeds the natural replenishment rate of fish species.

The demand for seafood has been rapidly increasing, driven by growing populations and changing dietary preferences. 

As a result, fishing fleets have expanded and become more advanced, using modern technology and larger nets to catch unprecedented amounts of fish.

The consequences of this relentless pursuit of seafood have been catastrophic.

Consequences of Overfishing

One of the most significant impacts of overfishing is the depletion of fish populations. 

Species that were once abundant and thrived in our oceans are now teetering on the brink of extinction. 

This not only disrupts the delicate balance of marine ecosystems but also has a cascading effect on other marine organisms, leading to a decline in biodiversity. 

Moreover, overfishing disrupts the natural food chain, as predators struggle to find adequate prey, causing a ripple effect throughout the entire ecosystem.

Another consequence of overfishing is the destruction of essential habitats like coral reefs and seagrass beds, which serve as nurseries and breeding grounds for many fish species.

With destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, these vital ecosystems are damaged beyond recovery, further exacerbating the decline in fish populations.

The economic and social impacts of overfishing are equally alarming. Many coastal communities heavily rely on fishing for their livelihoods, and the depletion of fish stocks has left them in economic distress. 

This, in turn, contributes to food insecurity and exacerbates poverty in these regions.

How Can we Combat Overfishing?

One of the key approaches to combat overfishing is the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs). 

These areas are designated to restrict or prohibit fishing activities, allowing fish stocks and habitats to recover. 

MPAs serve as sanctuaries for fish species to reproduce and replenish their populations. 

Governments and international organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of MPAs in protecting marine biodiversity and promoting sustainable fishing practices.

Another effective strategy is implementing strict catch limits and regulations. 

By setting specific quotas and limits on the amount of fish that can be caught, governments aim to prevent excessive fishing and ensure that fish populations have time to recover.

This approach helps maintain a balance between fishing and natural replenishment, promoting long-term sustainability in the fishing industry.

Furthermore, consumer awareness and responsible consumer choices can contribute significantly to combating overfishing. 

Sustainable seafood certification programs help consumers identify seafood products that have been sourced sustainably.  This will be talked more about later in the blog post. 

By opting for certified sustainable seafood, individuals can support responsible fishing practices and send a signal to the market to prioritize sustainability.

Success Stories in Overfishing Management

One remarkable success story comes from the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

In the 1990s, this once-thriving fishery had collapsed due to decades of overfishing. 

However, through the implementation of strict regulations and fishing quotas, the fish populations have shown signs of recovery. 

Today, the Grand Banks fishery serves as an example of effective overfishing management, with stocks rebounding and fishermen able to sustain their livelihoods while preserving the ecosystem.

Another success story is the case of the West Coast Groundfish Fishery in the United States. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, this fishery experienced severe depletion of its target species, leading to a federally declared fisheries disaster. 

However, with the introduction of a new management system based on individual fishing quotas and partnerships between fishermen, scientists, and conservationists, the fishery has made a remarkable rebound. 

This collaborative approach has resulted in better stock assessments, reduced bycatch, and increased economic viability for fishermen.

But what about aquaculture? Can aquaculture help combat overfishing?

Aquaculture Spotlight: Farmed Shrimp

Over five billion pounds of shrimp are farmed or caught each year. Of that five billion pounds, over one billion is consumed by the U.S.

We love our shrimp. It is one of the most versatile foods.

In the iconic movie Forrest Gump, Bubba explains the versatility of shrimp: “You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There's shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan Fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich.” 

Whichever way you enjoy cooking and serving up shrimp, I believe everyone can agree that it is important to get your shrimp from a good and reputable source.

The growing demand for shrimp has only led to more unsustainable practices. Industrialized shrimp farming has led to cheaper prices but negative environmental and social consequences. 

As we become more socially and environmentally conscious consumers, it is important to know the social and environmental impacts of the products we purchase. 

Coastal Wetlands Problem

Coastal wetlands are cost-effective and ideal for shrimp aquaculture. However, when these lands are converted to shrimp ponds, they are unsustainable and will eventually become destroyed and unusable.

Coastal wetlands are an important ecosystem that have high species diversity and perform many valuable ecosystem functions. Important functions include aiding in flood control, providing natural pollution control, and shelter and habitat for thousands of different plant and animal species. 

Unfortunately, it is estimated that over half of the world’s original wetland mangrove forests have been destroyed. It is widely believed that shrimp farms are the number one threat to mangrove forests.

Freshwater problem

Shrimp aquaculture can have a significant impact on water resources.  Since shrimp grow best in brackish water, a good amount of freshwater is needed to mix with the seawater.

Water in a shrimp pond needs to be renewed regularly. Up to 40% of the pond water can be flushed out each day. Some shrimp farms can use up to 5.3 million gallons of freshwater for each acre annually.

Another problem is salt water seepage from unlined ponds. This can lead to saltwater intrusion or the contamination of groundwater and other freshwater sources.

This hurts local communities that rely on the freshwater for domestic and agricultural uses.

Pollution problem

Another problem of shrimp aquaculture is the amount of pollution and waste that is produced.

Certain shrimp farming practices may require up to 200 “shadow” acres of ecosystem to absorb and offset the waste produced from shrimp farming. Yikes!

Most shrimp aquaculture practices require shrimp feed, fertilizers, chemicals, antibiotics, and huge amounts of saltwater and freshwater.

Wastewater is pumped out of the shrimp ponds and back into the environment. The liquid and solid waste from the shrimp ponds can be potentially hazardous to nearby communities. There are reported cases of communities located near shrimp aquaculture ponds that have experienced unexplained and unusual symptoms.

Unsustainable problem

Lastly, shrimp aquaculture requires heavy amounts of shrimp feed. The most common shrimp feed is fishmeal, which is produced from the capture of wild fish.

It takes around two to three pounds of fishmeal in order to produce one pound of shrimp. This means that the current feeding practices are not sustainable.

This is true for most farmed seafood, such as tilapia, carp, and salmon.  

It is estimated that 20 million tons of fishmeal are produced each year, with an estimated 70% directed toward aquaculture.

So, how can we differentiate between sustainably sourced and unsustainable seafood?

Seafood Watch

The Monterey Aquarium is a great resource and has a Seafood Watch Program. The website,, provides a list of the eco-certifications and overall score of specific farmed and caught seafood sources from across the globe.

Consumer guide

The website also has a consumer guide of each U.S. state, which uses science-based recommendations to help consumers make “ocean-friendly” choices. 

The consumer guide places these seafood sources into three categories: Best choices (Buy first. They’re well managed and caught or farmed responsibly), Good Alternatives (Buy, but be aware there are concerns with how they’re caught, farmed, or managed), and Avoid (Take a pass on these for now. They’re overfished, lack strong management, or are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.).

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Consumer labels and certifications

Another great way to distinguish sustainably sourced seafood products is through consumer labels and certifications.

For example, the Global Aquaculture Alliance and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council are reputable third-party organizations that provide reliable certifications and labels for sustainable seafood products.

Global Aquaculture Alliance is a non-profit organization known for its advocacy and education of sustainable aquaculture. 

Furthermore, this organization has one of the most common and identifiable labels: “The Best Aquaculture Practice.”

The Aquaculture Stewardship Council is another NGO that promotes the best environmental and social aquaculture practices. 

This organization works in collaboration with scientists, conservation groups, NGOs, aquaculture producers, seafood processors, retail, and food service companies.

This organization also certifies environmentally and socially responsible seafood. 

Next time you are buying seafood at the supermarket, make sure to look out for these consumer labels.

Cost, quality, and freshness are important when deciding whether to purchase a seafood product. However, I urge you to add another factor.

Also look at the environmental and social costs of the product as well. 

Supporting sustainable products and an earth-friendly lifestyle is not always cheap, but it’s necessary for our planet and future generations. 

When you start buying more sustainable products, I think you will quickly find how food quality and freshness go together with sustainable sourced products.

Table of Contents
  1. Overfishing - The Silent Threat To Our Oceans
  2. Consequences of Overfishing
  3. Success Stories in Overfishing Management
  4. Aquaculture Spotlight: Farmed Shrimp
  5. Coastal Wetlands Problem
    1. Freshwater problem
    2. Pollution problem
    3. Unsustainable problem
  6. Seafood Watch
  7. Consumer guide
  8. Consumer labels and certifications