Sustainable seafood for restaurants

Sustainable seafood
By Janine Bolton, LEAF

December 20, 2010

Sustainable seafood has been a hot topic as of late. More diners are becoming aware of this issue and looking for restaurants that serve sustainable seafood. National and international programs such as Ocean Wise, SeaChoice and Seafood Watch make it easier for consumers and chefs alike to make seafood choices that are less harmful to the environment and our ecosystem.

What’s all the fuss about?

When we fish the oceans without regard for sustainability, we’re causing some serious harm to sea life and the ecosystem. Overfishing, climate change, and toxic substances are just a few of the issues threatening our oceans. Diminishing stocks of some species means that, if we don’t change the way we procure and serve seafood, we may not have as many choices down the road.

What is sustainable seafood?

Sustainable seafood, according to SeaChoice, is “fish or shellfish caught or farmed in a manner that can be sustained over the long term without compromising the health or marine ecosystems.” Sustainable fishing is considered that which is:

  1. caught with regard to maintaining healthy populations of the species, and the stocks are monitored and managed properly
  2. caught using techniques that don’t harm the surrounding ecosystem, and
  3. caught with minimal “bycatch” (bycatch is when untended species are caught, such as birds or turtles).

Can farmed fish be considered sustainable?

Farmed seafood can be considered sustainable when important considerations are made. The most important aspect of farming seafood is responsibility. In order to protect wild stocks and habitats, a few key things need to be taken into consideration:

  1. Output is greater than input. Some species (tuna and salmon) consume more seafood during their growth than they produce, sometimes by a factor of 20. Farming species that produce more food than they utilize, such as shellfish, is a more sustainable way to farm.
  2. Eliminate chance of escape. Farmed fish pose a risk to the ocean and wild populations when they escape net pens that are directly in oceans or lakes. Ensuring farmed fish are properly contained will help protect the ocean habitat, and reduce the risk of disease transferring to wild stocks.
  3. Proper treatment and management of waste from farming is also extremely important, as disease can be transferred to wild stocks through waste. Ensuring farmed fish are kept at a safe distance from vulnerable habitats is also important.

What can you do?

Know where your fish is coming from

According to the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, there are no commercially viable Atlantic salmon fisheries left in the world. That means, if you purchase Atlantic salmon, it is from an open net farm. It’s important to know where your seafood is coming from in order to make responsible choices. Organizations such as SeaChoice and Ocean Wise can assist chefs in  selecting seafood items for their menus. SeaChoice uses a red (avoid), yellow (some concerns) and green (best choice) system to guide consumers to make informed choices. Ocean Wise uses a more cut-throat green (Yes) or red (No) system. These programs also offer logos to add to your menus to let diners know which choices are sustainable.

Shift the focus: Quality over quantity

Even the most sustainable seafood choice becomes less so if we serve too much of it. Satisfy your diners by emphasizing quality over quantity. Beautiful presentation and a healthy serving of deliciously prepared vegetable side dishes go along way to rounding out a seafood meal.

For more information, visit:

About the author:

Janine Bolton is President of LEAF (Leaders in Environmentally Accountable Foodservice), a National organizationthat is dedicated to helping those in the foodservice industry reduce their environmental impact, and recognizes them for doing so.

Like many students, Janine put herself through University by working in the foodservice industry. Janine has always had a passion for the environment and was deeply bothered by the amount of waste she observed during this time. After recognizing a gap in the environmental sector, Janine set forth to develop a program that would specifically address the environmental impacts of the foodservice industry in Canada. Janine is originally from Vancouver Island, B.C., and now resides in Calgary, Alberta, where she is involved with various sustainability initiatives. Janine holds a B.Sc. in Nutritional Science from the University of Alberta, is a Registered Dietitian and a member of the College of Dietitians of Alberta.

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