Eating Fish Sustainably: You Are Doing Something Good For Fish And The Environment

If the sea is damaged by overfishing and destructive fishing methods, it is more vulnerable to global warming – both of which have an impact on biodiversity. Therefore, sustainability must play a major role when eating fish. We explain what each individual can do.

The idea sounded so good: a simple blue label on fish, allowing consumers to identify sustainable products at a glance. That was the basic idea behind the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label, which was founded in 1997. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work completely,” says WWF fishing expert Philipp Kanstinger 13 years later.

The environmentalist criticizes: “In our view, a growing number of fisheries in the MSC are not sustainable.” The WWF had co-founded the now independent label organization at the time. Now the conservationists are distancing themselves. In the new fish guide, which will be published soon, the WWF wants to make changes to the recommendation of products with the MSC label.

The test results from our fish stick test also cast a bad light on the significance of the label. However, as a consumer it is almost impossible to keep track of all the different species and fishing methods, the overfished stocks and the conditions in aquaculture. That’s why a reliable label would be worth its weight in gold. It’s more complicated without it – but with the following six tips fish fans can still help to protect the ecosystem and ensure less animal suffering.

  1. Buy unsuspicious species of fish
  2. Avoid endangered species
  3. Use Fish Guide
  4. Pay attention to labels
  5. Also pay attention to the labels of farmed fish
  6. Enjoy fish in moderation

Eating Fish: These stocks are healthy

1. Buy unsuspicious species of fish

There aren’t many types of fish left that experts recommend without a stomach ache. But the local carp is one of them, for example. As unproblematic wild fish, Dr. Rainer Froese from the Geomar Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research also wild salmon from Alaska and sprat from the North Sea, as well as Alaska pollock from the healthy stocks in the North Pacific. Since the fisheries in the unproblematic areas are MSC-certified, it is advisable to identify Alaska pollock by the label. This fish is also not caught with bottom trawls.

When it comes to coastal fish such as plaice, flounder and turbot, Froese recommends finding out: does the fish come from the Baltic Sea? And was he caught with gillnets? If so, then the expert gives the green light. According to Froese and the WWF, mussels are okay if they come from aquaculture.

2. Avoid endangered species

Many traders and restaurants still offer endangered fish species as a matter of course. The popular eel and dogfish (Schillerlocken) are threatened with extinction. Grouper, ray and red tuna (bluefin tuna) also do not belong in the sustainable shopping basket.

Fish advisor is helpful when buying fish

3. Use Fish Advisor

There are also significant problems with many other fish species: some in all fishing areas, others only with a specific fishing method or in a specific region. This confusion makes the purchase quite complicated. The WWF fish guide, which is updated several times a year, is therefore helpful.

4. Pay attention to labels

The MSC label is not completely reliable. Unfortunately, wild fish that carry the MSC label can also come from stocks that are too small or from problematic fishing methods. This even applies to the less common and actually much stricter Naturland Wildfisch label issued by the Association for Organic Farming. When in doubt, however, products with the labels are more trustworthy than those without.

“We recommend the MSC label as the minimum standard that guarantees legal and traceable products,” explains WWF expert Kanstinger. This is important because 20 to 30 percent of global fishing is illegal. Deficiencies can only be remedied in traceable supply chains.

Eat fish sustainably

5. Also pay attention to the labels of farmed fish

Aquaculture causes problems of its own: close factory farming, use of insecticides, massive consumption of wild fish and soy for feed are just a few of them. Therefore note:

Organic-certified products have to comply with somewhat stricter requirements, such as for feed and stocking density.
The Naturland seal for aquaculture is even stricter. The catalog of criteria stipulates significantly lower stocking densities for farmed fish and prohibits feeding wild fish. It also regulates social standards for the people who work in the fisheries.
The organic farming association Bioland certifies carp.
Caution: In our view, the ASC label for responsible fish farming from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council is no proof of truly sustainable farming. For example, genetically modified soy is permitted as feed, and wild fish may also be included in the feed, even if not from overfished stocks.

6. Enjoy fish in moderation

Fish stocks that are still healthy today will also come under pressure if mankind’s hunger for fish continues to increase. It is therefore most sustainable to eat fish only rarely.

The German Society for Nutrition recommends one to two fish meals per week for optimal nutrient supply, especially with long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. If you eat less fish, you are doing yourself a favor if you consume plant-based omega-3 suppliers every day, i.e. some linseed oil, rapeseed oil or walnuts.

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