Understanding Sustainable Seafood
Richard Garcia
Richard Garcia

Eating fish is a smart choice. It’s a lean protein with great health benefits. But some varieties of seafood have been overfished or caught in ways that may cause lasting damage to our oceans and marine life.

Sustainable seafood is a popular topic these days. In fact, the most frequent question I get when talking about the subject is what is sustainable seafood? The best way to describe sustainable seafood is a fish or shellfish caught or farmed with consideration for the long term viability of marine species, fishing communities, and the oceans eco system. Sustainable seafood comes from fisheries that are really well managed and aquaculture operations that are focused on developing measures to maintain strong eco systems and healthy populations of the species being farmed. In addition, sustainable seafood must be managed by keeping today’s needs in mind without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

I was recently invited to Maine to team up with The Gulf of Maine Research Institute to promote undervalued, sustainable species such as Pollock and scup. In Maine, Sodexo is committed to sourcing 100% of its seafood from the Gulf of Maine by 2020.  And even more than that, our chefs are focused on developing recipes and incorporating more undervalued species in the menu.   Community supported fisheries and fishing cooperatives that follow the model of community supported agriculture operations, have popped up on both U.S. and Canadian coasts, connecting consumers and restaurants with fishermen, shortening the supply chain and helping consumer feel good about the seafood they are buying.

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Progress is being made.  For example, Chef Joseph Cotton at the National Aquarium in Baltimore cooks with invasive species of fish and Chef Larry Arguello at the Houston Zoo explores (and understands) the need to use bycatch from the Houston area fisherman to help sustain the local economy. But when you’re at the store or ordering in a restaurant, how do you know which seafood to choose? Here are a few tips to ensure you are contributing to a sustainable seafood solution:

  1. Look for the Certified Sustainable Label and only purchase from trusted retailers
  2. Think seasonally and buy what’s in season. Yes fish have a season too.
  3. Experiment with lesser known fish species
  4. Eat local! When possible, support small scale fisherman and their communities (Maine)
  5. Take time to get educated about sustainable seafood options
  6. Diversify! Instead of always looking at the top 3 most consumed fish species in the U.S. – tuna, shrimp, salmon – consider less known species like hake, dogfish and mackerel to help ease pressure on more popular species.

Despite having some sustainable successes and growing consumer support for eating responsibly, we still have a long way to go.  It is important to continue spreading the word about embracing sustainable seafood. Catching or farming seafood responsibly and educating consumers on how to choose sustainable seafood are easy and effective ways to help protect our oceans, the long-term health of the environment and the livelihoods of the people that depend upon the environment.


Chef Richard Garcia is the National Culinary Director for Sodexo Leisure Services.

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