Have you ever wondered whether you're making the best decisions when you choose seafood? Nestled on the coast of California, there's a group dedicated to helping you find out. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is focused on creating a healthy ocean environment and wants to help you make the best dinner choice before you pick up the menu. To do so, the Aquarium, which has had about 50 million visitors since it opened, created an app called Seafood Watch.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program aims to help consumers, chefs and everyone in between arm themselves with up to date information and recommendations on how to chose seafood in a way that supports a healthy ocean. The Aquarium has been raising awareness about this issue since 1999 and defines sustainable seafood as, “seafood from sources, whether fished or farmed that can maintain or increase production without jeopardizing the structure and function of affected ecosystems.”
Essentially, the program aims to show seafood lovers that their choices matter quite a bit since they constantly drive the market and can mean the difference between a species survival and extinction. When consumers use this app, they can also make a difference by supporting eco-friendly fishermen and aquaculture operations.
By empowering consumers, Seafood Watch hopes to change the way people think about the oceans and wildlife. While it can be difficult to always know exactly where your seafood originated from, it helps to ask the right questions. The program encourages people to ask the store or restaurant where the fish is from and how it’s caught. If the business can’t or won’t give an answer, then move on to something a bit less fishy.
Not all fishing approaches are created equal and the app helps people learn just how their food traveled from the water to their plate. Most people probably imagine their fish are caught in the wild using traditional methods, but actually half of the seafood eaten in the United States comes from farms. The sustainability level of aquaculture, or fish farming, is determined by where the farm is, what fish they raise, and how they raise it. While there are dozens of different methods used to hunt or farm fish, it’s important to chose from the best sources in order to help reduce potential negative effects on the ocean.
Apart from consumers, the program hopes to inform the entire seafood supply chain, which often includes chefs. The organization has even developed an education program to help restaurants and retailers make informed decisions about the seafood they offer to their customers.
So, how does the app actually work? The program has a wide range of strict standards to help determine the level of sustainability for each species. The guidelines are updated every winter and summer to keep up with the ever changing status of each type of seafood and food trends. The free app gives consumers endless up to date reports and seafood recommendations to search from. After each species is thoroughly reviewed, it is color coded to help consumers easily choose the best options.
Avoid anything flagged in red, as it has been determined to be overfished or irresponsibly harvested. Species tagged in yellow are a good alternative, but not perfect. Always try to choose something marked green, which signals that the fish was caught in a manner that created minimal impact on the ocean. Apart from individual species recommendations, the app also helps users find nearby stores and restaurants that offer sustainable seafood.
The Seafood Watch program not only hopes to encourage sustainable choices, but it is actively trying to solve problems with this tool. Essentially, the goal is to advocate for a better fishing industry where the global supply chain is transparent, struggling populations like the bluefin tuna are restored, and illegal or unregulated fishing is ended. The program works towards these goals by creating partnerships with the people on the front lines.
To learn more about sustainable seafood, download the Seafood Watch app on your iPhone or Android. If you have kids, you can also help them explore and learn about sustainable fish on the Seafood Watch website. Or better yet, take them on a trip to the Aquarium to get up close and personal with the wildlife. At the very least, try asking the restaurant or store about their sustainable seafood practices, and choose according to your ethics.