We're at a point in time where there simply aren't plenty more fish in the sea. With over three-quarters of our global fish stocks either over-exploited or fished right up to their limit, there are only a few fisheries that will be able to serve up the planet's increasing demand for seafood.
Aquaculture, or farming seafood is often held up as the solution to the global fishing crisis, and indeed, the aquaculture sector is rapidly expanding globally - between 1980 and 2010, world aquaculture fish production expanded by almost 12 times1.
However, with a continued requirement for wild caught fish to feed fish grown in captivity, there is still a cap on how much farmed produce can provide.
The good news is that we can lessen our impact on our oceans by choosing our seafood wisely. The fish you choose directly affects the health of our oceans.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD?
Put simply, 'sustainable seafood' is fish or shellfish that reaches our plates with minimal impact upon fish populations or the wider marine environment. It's not just the numbers of fish left in the ocean that matters, it's the way in which the fish are caught, the impact on the seafloor, other marine wildlife and how fishing affects the healthy and natural functioning of marine ecosystems.
Globally, we still have some way to go in achieving sustainable fisheries; poor management, lack of knowledge and the race to make a buck from fishing has led to overfishing and too high a burden on other ocean inhabitants. Bycatch, where species other than those being targeted for sale are caught up in fishing gear, kills hundreds of millions of animals every year, including unwanted fish, corals, turtles, dolphins and seabirds.
Fortunately, there is now growing demand for sustainable seafood - seafood caught or farmed responsibly, at fishing levels that allow fish stocks to maintain their populations and without jeopardising the ecosystem in which they live.
Sustainable seafood can be wild-caught or farmed in aquaculture. For wild-caught fish, sustainable seafood is generally sourced from fast-growing, highly productive species that are caught by methods which don't damage ocean habitats or catch large volumes of non-target species. Sustainably farmed seafood is usually grown in small, closed aquaculture systems that neither destroy coastal habitats, or depend on wild caught fisheries for feed.
Very few fisheries are actually certified as sustainable throughout the world. The uncomfortable truth is that fishing is taking a huge toll on our oceans. Our global marine wildlife is under pressure from overfishing, destructive fishing gear and poor aquaculture practices. Not only are modern fisheries removing many of the fish from the sea, but non-target marine wildlife and ocean habitats are being destroyed in the process.
Thankfully, consumer demand for sustainable, environmentally friendly fish products is beginning to create momentum for a change in the way our fisheries and managed and caught.
Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide helps you take the first steps on the journey of discovering sustainable seafood.
References 1 UN FAO The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012