Sustainable Fish Sources and How to Be More Mindful of Fish Products

Each and every one of us is called to make more sustainable fish choices. Opting for sustainable seafood means you support solutions for healthier oceans and aquatic ecosystems. It’s a choice you must make every time you purchase fish and other seafood. As we talk about what sustainable seafood sources means, keep in mind that your habits count, whether you are an individual shopper who, a chef, or a supplier sourcing from fishing communities.

Empty Seas

Over the past five decades, humanity appetite for fish seems to have rapidly increased, combined with the increasing industrialization of the fishing industry. The result is not pretty; in fact, our seas are seriously at risk of losing some species forever.

In addition, around 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are either fully or over exploited at the moment. Marine fisheries employ more than 34 million people, and almost 500 million people in the world’s poorest countries are directly dependent on fish as their main source of food and nutrition. Combining all of these factors has dire social and ecological consequences.

The Premise

Unfortunately, approximately one third (around 30 percent) of the world’s fisheries is now over-fished. But there are more problems associated with non-sustainable fishing, such as:

  • Unreported, illegal, and unregulated fishing.
  • Bycatch of vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species – including sharks, marine seabirds and mammals, as well as young fish that have not bred yet.
  • Using certain types of fishing gear (i.e. bottom trawling) which severely damages marine habitats.
  • A lack of management to control fishing in vulnerable areas and sensitive aquatic ecosystems.
  • Discarding fish that was caught unintentionally; dead or dying fish are often thrown back in the water just because they are not commercially viable.

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is responsible with setting out the rules governing the methods and the rate at which fish are caught in the European Union. However, in spite of the fact that their polices are under review, environmentalists are afraid the reforms may not be tough enough – or fast enough – to stop the current damage.

The Problem

Aquaculture – also known as fish farming – is often cited as the one-fits-all solution to these problems. The aquaculture industry has indeed seen some healthy growth over the past few years; farmed species include trout, salmon, prawns, and sea bass. However, intensive aquaculture requires careful management. Otherwise, it can be associated with a plethora of social and environmental issues:

  1. The destruction of ecologically important habitats is an urgent problem in some parts of Latin America and Asia, where huge tracts of mangrove forests have disappeared in favor of developing prawn farming;
  2. Many of the farmed species are carnivorous (they feed on fish); the fish used for feeding them is rarely caught in a sustainable manner;
  3. Animal welfare issues may be particular to fish that would usually migrate, such as salmon;
  4. The high concentration of fish in each pen can lead to diseases and parasites, such as sea lice; these health threats can also affect wild fish;
  5. Prawn farming in poorer countries often causes loss of livelihoods, poor employment conditions, and drives coastal people away from their homes;
  6. Pollution can come from fish fecal matter, antibiotics and toxic chemicals, which fisheries use to keep netting and cages free of barnacles and seaweed.

The Solution

Organic fish farming could be a viable solution aims to reducing many of these problems, but experts disagree on the extent to which it can improve the current situation. The organic standards of the Soil Association have already started to address some of the most challenging problems. For instance, they now require fisheries to feed carnivorous farmed fish (such as salmon) with scraps from fish processing instead of wild fish caught to become fish feed.

At the same time, we also seem to have improved our habits. We started to spend more and more on sustainable fish (£207m in 2010), and experts predicted the figure will only grow. But you can play your own part in preserving our aquatic environment. Buying less fish and seafood in general seems like the most obvious solution, but even if you do buy it, make a habit out of following these guidelines.

frozen fish market


Sustainable Fish Habits

  • Do not buy fish from badly managed fisheries and overfished fish farms. Check out the Marine Conservation Society (MCS)’s ‘fish to avoid’ list. You can also trust the MCS pocket Good Fish Guide when it comes to fish that’s safe to buy.
  • Buy only from responsible retailers. To know which ones, read the Marine Conservation Society supermarket survey results.
  • Check out Sustainable Fish City’s Top Ten Swaps to choose the tastiest and most sustainable alternatives to fish you love to eat.
  • Become interested in supporting organizations and businesses that sell farmed or sustainably caught fish. Your best option is wild fish marked with the logo of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC); it certifies the fish that comes from well-managed fisheries and not from endangered stocks. Responsibly farmed fish should feature the Aquaculture Stewardship Council logo.
  • Support campaigns that call for more sustainable fisheries. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Fish Fight is a good example; it seeks an increase in Marine Protection Zones (ocean conservation areas where fishing is prohibited), an end to discards, and more sustainable fishing practices in the European Union.
  • Eat in restaurants based on their fish sustainability, then review them using the Fish2Fork restaurant guide.

Greenest Options in Farmed Seafood




Like any other bivalves, oysters serve as small filters in the water. Therefore, farming them in a certain ecosystem brings a significant improvement to the water quality. At the same time, farming oysters might be the only way to get them before long, given the ocean acidification that’s currently causing big problems for shellfish.


Mussels are a treasured species for the same reasons oysters are good for a habitat. They are the greener seafood choice when farmed because they filter the water on the farm, they’re easy to contain, and can be farmed in a variety of locations.

Trout, crayfish, tilapia, catfish, Arctic char, and bay scallops are also greener options as sustainable fish sources. They require simple conditions for thriving and they pose less of a risk when farmed in vulnerable ecosystems.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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