The world is at risk of running out of seafood. Here’s what you can do
Imagine a world without fish curry or consider a Singapore without chilli crab. Overfishing and depletion of fish species loom large in the region and around the globe, which could make these hypothetical situations a reality much sooner than expected.
Imagine a world without fish curry. Or going to your favourite hawker stall and not being able to order prawn noodles or laksa… or, horror of horrors, consider a Singapore without chilli crab.
Overfishing and depletion of fish species loom large in the region and around the globe, which could make these hypothetical situations a reality much sooner than expected.
The 2018 Global Opportunity Report — launched by United Nations (UN) Global Compact as a “guide to opportunities for building a safe and sustainable future”, in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — identified ocean threats as a one of the major risks facing humanity.
The findings of the latest UN report on biodiversity show that current negative trends will “undermine progress towards 80 per cent (35 out of 44) of the assessed targets of the SDGs”, including SDG 14, which pertains to life below water: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”.
According to the report, in 2015, 33 per cent of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60 per cent were maximally sustainably fished, while only 7 per cent were harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
If these trends continue, it’s estimated that there will be no stocks left for commercial fishing by 2048 in Asia Pacific alone.
There’s no question that our planet is in increasing peril. There’s only one Earth and a finite supply of seafood in the world’s oceans. It’s become vital for individual consumers and organisations to shift mindsets and cast their nets wider in the search for more sustainable ways of living and operating.
In a GlobeScan Seafood Consumers study that surveyed seafood consumers in 22 markets — including Australia, the UK and China — 76 per cent of those surveyed in Singapore were found to hold the opinion that consumers should protect fish species so future generations can also enjoy seafood.
A high percentage of respondents were keen to hear more from companies on the sustainability of seafood products, demonstrating that they understood the importance of sustainable seafood consumption. However, there is still a long way to go in raising the public’s awareness of the impact of overfishing and other threats on the ocean’s health.
The research consultancy also found that issues such as plastic pollution (56 per cent) and harmful chemicals in seafood (45 per cent) are what the respondents considered the most concerning threats to the oceans.
Fewer survey respondents were worried about overfishing (36 per cent) and illegal fishing (22 per cent), signalling a general lack of understanding on how these issues could impact seafood supplies and ocean health.
It may seem daunting to tackle all the issues facing the world’s oceans, but raising awareness to these threats will only help you be part of the solution. Three ways individuals can help alleviate the pressures on the oceans are:
1. Educate yourself on and support sustainable fishing practices
Learn more about issues such as overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and sustainable fishing practices, and support organisations that are working toward UN SDG 14 of more sustainable oceans.
Challenge yourself to understand how seafood species are sustainably sourced and how companies ensure their products are sustainable and traceable all the way back to the source.
The word “sustainable” is often used too lightly without substantiation, so be mindful of companies who are simply looking to fly under the radar by tacking on the word into their packaging or brochures.
2. Know where your seafood comes from
Seafood products go through multiple parties — from a fishery to the restaurant or supermarket. Knowing how your seafood is sourced and whether it was handled with care all along the supply chain, from ocean to pate, is important.
Sustainable seafood labels help us identify products that are traceable to the source and ensure accountability throughout the entire supply chain so that non-certified products are separated. Take for instance, the blue Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label.
This label is only applied to wild fish or seafood from fisheries that have been certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard, a science-based set of requirements of sustainable fishing.
Sustainability encompasses rebuilding and maintaining fish stocks, respecting ocean habitats by minimising bycatch, and ensuring people who depend on fishing can maintain their livelihoods.
To achieve the MSC Fisheries Standard, fisheries must meet 28 performance indicators across three principles of sustainable fishing: sustainable fish stocks, minimising environmental impact, and effective management.
Fisheries voluntarily choose to enter into assessment against the MSC Fisheries Standard and are assessed by accredited independent certification bodies.
3. Make smarter consumer choices
The GlobeScan Seafood Consumers study found that 7 in 10 respondents in Singapore believe that in order to save the oceans, consumers need to choose seafood from sustainable sources.
To safeguard seafood supplies for the future, choose seafood products that have sustainable seafood labels.
In Singapore, there are more than 60 such blue MSC-labelled products available, and some sustainable seafood species include skipjack tuna, Spencer Gulf king prawns, Hokkaido scallops and blue swimmer crab. Encourage your favourite seafood vendors to look into sustainable seafood, and help create demand for sustainable options.
As the ocean crisis deepens, there’s a pressing need for large corporations and governments to also lend their support to the cause.
Gaps in scientific knowledge and a lack of resources or expertise can prevent fisheries in the developing world from operating sustainably, for example, and we need urgent, large-scale action from across the seafood industry.
Non-government organisations, governments, retailers and funders all need to work together to create a pathway to sustainability with more entry points for fisheries to become certified sustainable. Knowledge sharing and communication to deliver lasting change at scale is one step in the right direction and must begin immediately.
Like climate change and plastic pollution, the problems facing the oceans won’t be solved by one industry or country — or indeed, by a dozen or more — but individual steps toward change can help.
Let us play our part by pushing ourselves, our friends, our neighbours and our communities toward a more sustainable way of living.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Anne Gabriel is Oceania Programme Director at Marine Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organisation established to address the issue of unsustainable fishing and to safeguard seafood supplies for future generations.