How to Buy Sustainable Seafood

The process of choosing sustainable seafood can leave even the best of us confused. Not only is it difficult to know what we should be buying, but also where we should be sourcing it from. Then there's the fact that various conscious consumer apps and guides often seem to contradict each other. Worse still, often only the most knowledgeable clerks and servers can actually tell you where the seafood they sell comes from and how it was caught. However, there are a few ways to make more environmentally-conscious purchases using the reliable sources and information we do have. Below, we'll walk you through some easy-to-implement tips and tricks to do your part in making more sustainable seafood choices.

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Find your guide

There are a variety of apps and free guides that are excellent to use on-the-spot when making a seafood purchase. Marine Conservation Society's Good Fish Guide, WWF's Seafood Guide, Ocean Wise, and Seafood Watch all take into consideration a variety of factors from capture method to type of fish and provide you with a sliding scale sustainability rating. Some monitor the future of the species based on the current fishery activity, while others report the current population numbers. Let's take a closer look at some of the major factors that make a fish more or less sustainable.

Know the common harvesting techniques

Just as there are many fishing techniques used throughout our oceans and rivers, there are also many different ways fish are farmed - from hand harvesting seafood like clams, barnacles, and sea urchins, to harvesting Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout in large open net pens, and even creating man-made ponds for fish like tiger shrimp, catfish, and tilapia. Each of these methods comes with its own set of environmental pros and cons, making it incorrect to assume that all farmed fishing practices are more sustainable than wild fishing.

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Given that there are so many different techniques - some practiced sustainably and some not - it's difficult to pin-point which methods are always environmentally-friendly and are greenlight purchases at your local fish monger. As the first step towards more informed purchases, we suggest making yourself more familiar with the different farming and fishing techniques and their potential impacts on the environment. From there, you can get a better idea of which practices might be relevant for the types of fish you're eating both inside and outside of your own kitchen.

Go with what's local

In addition the farming and fishing techniques, it's important to consider which kinds of seafood are local to your region. Just like supporting your local producers and farmers, you should also try to support local fishers and fish mongers. Buying local first and foremost cuts down on the environmental impact of the product itself, meaning that the fish or shellfish will have spent less energy getting to you. This often, but not always, means a fresher product. If you're unsure about what fish might be caught or farmed in your region, ask your local fish monger or refer to the sites listed above, as they often have regionally specific maps and guides.

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Don't be afraid to try something new

Overfishing of the most popularly eaten ocean fish and shellfish not only endangers the health of their populations, but their adjacent ecosystems. So it's important to be aware and open to different types of fish. From abalone to bream, hake to sturgeon, the world of sustainable fish doesn't have to be boring or limited, and it doesn't take too much effort to find out which species and harvesting techniques are most relevant and sustainable for your area.

Have a sustainable seafood tip we missed? Share it with our community in the comments below!