Seafood is very different from other animal-based agriculture industries; it is the world's last major food source still caught in the wild. However, with the ocean under serious threat from unsustainable fishing, toxic pollution, and climate change, our fish's health and availability are at risk. Over three billion people depend on coastal and marine biodiversity for their livelihoods, with fish being their primary protein source. Currently, about 50% of your seafood is caught in the wild.  This is done by Commercial fisheries using high-tech equipment to track and catch large groups of fish. These wild fishes are usually either at capacity already, or their stocks are being unsustainably overfished.

The UN Food and agriculture organization report that total fish production in 2016 was 88%, up from 64% in the 1960s.  The annual growth rate for fish consumption has surpassed meat from all terrestrial animals. This is a severe problem that has detrimental effects on our environment, including but not exclusive to reduced biodiversity, extinction, and future economic decline.





To combat overfishing in the wild, fish farming is a practice that dates back thousands of years. Aquaculture has proliferated in response to rising demand and declining world fish stocks due to overfishing.  The majority of aquaculture comes from Asia, with the Chinese responsible for about 60% of its output.  Similarly, when agriculture attempts to meet consumer demand, fish farming faces many challenges.  Densely packed fish pens can lead to the spread of disease, which is combatted by producers' antibiotic use.  If fish escape their enclosures or conditions naturally spread, native populations are at risk.  A U.S Government agency, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) accounts that one pound of farmed salmon uses fish oil from five pounds of wild fish and fish meal from 1.3 pounds of fish. If aquaculture will remain at such a large scale, it is essential to ensure its practice is sustainable.  


85% of fish stocks are either fully exploited or overfished, and many fisheries throughout the world throw away more fish than they keep.




Open ocean agriculture is a more sustainable solution to the problem faced by traditional fish farming. However, this practice should only be used to farm ocean system species native to a specific area. Open ocean agriculture would move pens to the open ocean, where fish are provided with a more consistent environment which would naturally flush and remove farms of waste and other nuisances. Open ocean aquaculture is less stressful for the fish, and thus they would be less vulnerable to disease, which will lead to flourishing species and little need for antibiotics. 


This sustainability strategy works exactly how it sounds.  A good land-based tank system recycles 99% of its water and can be monitored, reducing disease and antibiotics use risks.  A drawback to this system is its high cost of operation. Currently, land-based tank systems only represent half of a percent of current total industry output. 


Switching to plant-based feed is a sustainable fish alternative to fish feed. There have already been efforts toward switching proteins from fish meals to grains and seeds; however, today's innovators are working on even more sustainable options like algae and genetically modified oilseeds. Researchers are still trying to determine whether certain species can survive on fish-free and vegetarian diets.  



To ensure that our seafood is genuinely sustainable, the process from which it was sourced must be traceable from end-to-end. This means that each product sold must be traced from its harvest, sea, or farm to our stores through the supply chain. Traceability also assists with problems that arise from illegal or overfishing. Technology is starting to make advances toward affordable tracking systems, making it easier for companies to become more conscious.  A variety of certifications, task forces, and industry associations are also available for businesses to join and create a more sustainable seafood industry. 


Such associations and initiatives include:

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)
The Ocean Disclosure Project, initiated by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP)
Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, which has developed science-based standards, identifies which species should be avoided due to over- or destructive fishing processes.

At stake for businesses are financial returns, but the world needs to maintain healthy ecosystems for the sake of civilization. Companies must promote sustainability and make their practices a norm within the seafood industry.  

It's not all about businesses; YOU create demand.  Below are three things you, as the consumer, can do.





Overconsumption of a particular species can lead to risks of overfishing environmental risks and overfishing. 
NRDC: The Smart Seafood Buying Guide helps consumers diversify the types of seafood they eat, avoid species high in mercury, buy seafood sourced from countries with strong regulations, and support local community fisheries.




Be picky about the seafood you buy and where it comes from. Make an effort to shop specifically for certified and sustainable food.  Speak up to store managers or even a company's corporate office to ask about sustainable seafood options and what it might take to see it in-store.  





Many consumer resources are available online that will give you "best choice" or "alternative" fish options.  Whether you are at your local supermarket or out to dinner, you, as the consumer, can be more empowered to make environmentally conscious seafood choices. 

Monterey Bay Aquarium: Seafood Watch highlights which species of fish are "Best Choices" (green), "Good Alternatives" (yellow), or ones to "Avoid" (red). The aquarium also offers national, regional, and state guides on its website and smartphone app. 

NOAA: FishWatch: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publish FishWatch U.S. Seafood Facts, a comprehensive online resource where you can view profiles of over 100 species of U.S. farmed or U.S. wild-caught species of seafood that include information on population, fishing rates, habitat impacts, as well as health and nutrition facts.