3 simple guidelines for buying truly sustainable seafood


By Kelly Collins Geiser

October 19th 2019


For years, I’ve wanted to write about sustainable seafood, fraud, mislabeling, and misguided information.  And furthermore, find a simple solution for the average seafood eater in their quest to eating good, clean, and fair fish.

I’ve spent months writing and rewriting trying to simplify a complex situation between the ocean and river world and the conscience eater.

Making a smart choice in seafood is so important!  We are supporting healthy oceans and river systems – the blood and veins of the earth.  We are valuing wildlife and creating an economic incentive towards stewardship.  And we are eating a healthier and more delicious food source.

There is always more; more ways we can be aware, more access to small boat operations, more information on quality and traceability.  These rules aren’t by any means a total solution.  They are a guide that will help empower us and our choices.  Here are 3 guidelines to follow.


Buy U.S. caught Seafood.  The U.S. has strict regulations including target fishing, conservative zoning, seasonal fishing, permitting, stewardship, accountability, and traceability.   Seafood must be originated within US waters, and processed in the US.  This assures quality and fair market value.  Every pound of every fish landed on the shores of the US has to be accounted for: targeted fish and bi-catch.  The vessel, species, and origin are all recorded at the state and federal level.

The Magnuson’s Stevens Act enacted in 1976 paved the way for fishery conservation and management.  This act is now in the process of evolving with climate change as well as rethinking how a new generation of fishermen can gain access to permits, and it is truly the envy of the world.  When you spend your money on US seafood, you are supporting an environmentally sustainable product, and a national economy that is made up of co-ops, small boats, fishing families, and indigenous peoples and tribes.


Buy Wild fish and shrimp.  Most Farmed fish is coming from outside the US.  So, if you stick with the first rule you’re good.  There are some species that are farmed in the US, but most have had terrible effects on the ecosystem and are now in litigation over pollution and water rights issues.  Farmed shell fish (clams, mussels, and oysters) in the US are the exception.

The farmed feed for all carnivorous fin fish uses more pounds of wild seafood for its meal and oils than pounds of food in return.  That means there is less wild food for humans to eat, medium and big fish, and other mammals.  Fish feed contains chicken bone and feather meal, soy, corn, a vitamin pack with antibiotics and other medicines to fend off diseases from their tight pens and waterways, contaminating the water and habitat.  You really do not want to eat something that eats this.

If you’ve had a hard time distinguishing which kind of wild fish to eat and have been confused you can thank Seafood Watch.  Example: You’ll find roughly 60 different salmon choices with a different catch method, or gear use, origin country, and ocean on their list.  How could we possibly remember or distinguish one from another while we are shopping?  Their Green list is deeply flawed because they don’t take the feed into consideration AND in some cases it takes some lobbying to get on the green and yellow.  More on that in the “certification” part below.

Local, seasonal, or frozen:  Pick 3 to 4 types of fish you like best and learn the seasons and origin.  If it’s not local, buy frozen.  Frozen is often more fresh than “fresh”.  The process in freezing keeps the fish texture intact and healthy whereas a “fresh” fish that’s not local (outside 50 miles) may be 3-7 days at the bottom of a boat, 1-3 days in a warehouse, 1 day in transport, and 1-4 days in a market or restaurant.


A few words in the seafood world that need reexamining:

“Local”- this is a relative term.  Local is within 50 miles for some.  Others would suggest all of California is “local”.  When the fish monger tells you it’s local, ask them where local is.

“sustainable” – when it’s not. (Marketing word).  I have never been to a restaurant or market where they sell farmed Salmon and tell me it’s unsustainable.  Eye roll.  So, when a server says, “it’s sustainably harvested” you can ask them what make it so sustainable? You may find out it’s farmed in Chile, which breaks all 3 rules.

“Certified” – when it’s pay to play.  All certifications require paperwork and money, and most of the time a representative from the certifier won’t ever see the operation for verification…certification has all sorts of problems that mostly pop up at the end of the market chain where transparency is skewed for the soul purpose of moving it out of the case.  Small boat fishermen don’t always have the resources to certify their product.

“line caught” – is ambivalent.  It could mean one woman with a fishing pole in her hands, or it could mean a 60mile line with a hook every 4 feet trailing behind a large vessel.  Always ask what line caught means.

“Fresh” – Most Frozen seafood is fresher than “fresh” labeled seafood, as mentioned above.  When your market says “fresh” ask them what day it was landed?  If it’s past 6 days – I would pass.

Stay tuned for more blogging about seafood!  Best Fishes!

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