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Friday, June 8, 2012

Aye, Matey - Are your favourite childhood fish sticks sustainable?

Kelly Roebuck is the Sustainable Seafood Campaign Manager at Living Oceans Society.

As a kid there are a few things we believe to be true that later along the line some way or another we find out just weren't real. Santa Clause. The tooth fairy. And for me, Captain Birds Eye.

Captain Birds Eye was an enchanting older fellow who seemed trustworthy and likable. He brought his catch of fish sticks oddly enough by sailboat (but to a 6-year old – a boat is a boat), while kids screamed with joy to be able to munch on yummy battered cod or something else that fooled children to think they weren't really eating a fish of any resemblance. The 'starry-eyed' image (or illusion) of fishing had started early.

But of course now, just like the tooth fairy, I know that Captain Birds Eye and his sailboat (ahem fishing boat) just are not real. Nor is the seemingly endless supply of fish sticks.

In fact, overfishing is the greatest impact humans are having on our oceans today. A study by the University of California in 2008 aimed to estimate and visualize the global impact people have on our oceans from pollution, to climate change to industrial fishing. Researchers found that there is no part of our oceans that are not affected by human activities; it is no coincidence that heavily fished locations such as the North Sea, the South and East China Seas and the Bering Sea are the greatest impacted.

Graphic Credit: University of California, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

When shopping at your local supermarket's seafood counter, full of what seems like endless seafood options, it is hard to believe that overfishing is such an issue, or that the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports 20 million tonnes of the global catch of seafood per year is bycatch (the accidental catch of unwanted marine life from sea turtles, sharks, sea birds, marine mammals or other non-targeted fish species). And farmed seafood isn't always the answer to overfishing. Shrimp, North America's number one seafood item, is typically associated with environmentally destructive farming practices.

Out of sight out of mind, right? Oh, but look there is a friendly looking drawing of a ship captain on the box. The good news is that seafood shoppers are turning the tide. Handy tools such as the SeaChoice wallet guide make it easy to support ocean-friendly seafood.

Restaurants, food service companies and supermarkets are taking responsibility for the seafood they source. In 2008, only three major North American retailers had a sustainable seafood policy. Fast forward to 2012 and over 20 (all but a few) major retailers have a sustainable seafood policy of some sort.

Here at Living Oceans Society we are proud to be part of this sea change. Through our work with SeaChoice and its member groups, we are actively working with Canadian retailers such as Canada Safeway, Overwaitea Food Group and Federated Coop Ltd to help them implement their sustainable seafood policies.

Canada Safeway for example has removed red-listed species such as Atlantic halibut, orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and shark. As part of their corporate social responsibility they have committed and are actively working on sourcing only ocean-friendly and traceable seafood by 2015.

Oh and my childhood friend, Captain Birds Eye is taking note – he too has put on his sustainable seafood captain's hat.

This week is Oceans Week! Be a SeaHugger! Show your love for the oceans simply by supporting Living Oceans Society's work – Donate today!

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