When looking at how the food we eat impacts the environment and ecosystems, we often think first about meat or the effects of mono-crop agriculture. While these things certainly can have serious consequences in relation to the planet, we often forget the importance of seafood. With most of the world's population living in or near coastal regions, fishing and seafood plays a vital role in the diets and livelihoods of billions of people. With so many people depending on it, it is no wonder that aquatic ecosystems have become severely compromised by over-fishing, polluted waters, and rising ocean temperatures. This is why when we consume seafood we must make every effort to make sure we are purchasing it from a source that extracts it sustainably.
More than 3/4 of the world's population depends on seafood to account for at least 15% of their animal protein intake, with 150 grams of seafood equaling 60% of your suggested daily protein needs. In fact, most of the poorest people on earth rely on fishing as their main source of income as well. The global fishing industry produces well over 160 tonnes of seafood each year and is increasing annually by 3.2% to account for growing demand. With this increase comes danger to fish populations as over-fishing has had widespread impacts on aquatic ecosystems. There are currently more than 50 fish species that have been identified as endangered or threatened, not to mention the impacts that unethical and large scale fishing has on species such as sharks, dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and even coral reefs. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, "85% of the world's fisheries have been pushed to or beyond their biological limits." To compensate for over-fishing, aquaculture, or fish farming, has increase greatly in the past decade. However, this too has had negative impacts on inland water sources and even humans, as many farms must give their fish heavy doses of antibiotics to protect against high disease rates in dirty and overcrowded ponds.
There are solutions though, some of which are being practiced by Sodexo on Ithaca College Campus. Sustainable seafood practices take into account the well-being of fish species and their habitats through responsible extractions and farming techniques. An important part of this is to monitor fish species and the health of their environment on a regular basis to assure that exploitation does not produce unwanted consequences. Starting in the 1990's, ecolabeling of fish began to give consumers an easy way to make informed decisions about the seafood they are purchasing. The program is not only beneficial to aquatic species and their environment, but also to producers and fisherman who can now fetch a higher price for their sustainably sourced seafood. With programs such as this, in conjunction with organizations like the Marin Stewardship Council and help from dining services companies like Sodexo, we can begin to restore our planet's seas and the species that live there, while at the same time help those people that rely on them most. Sodexo has vowed to make 100% of the seafood they serve be sustainably sourced. This means working with fisherman and farmers to assure that their practices are ethical, have minimal environmental impact, and exclude antibiotics and other similar inputs from their products.
Next time your at the supermarket buying seafood, look out for ecolabels that mark seafood as sustainably sourced to do your part in rehabilitating aquatic ecosystems. And remember too that you can always be confident in the high quality seafood being provided by Sodexo and Ithaca Dining Services.