My eight-year-old son, who has been interested in researching whales, recently said to me, “I saw the cutest whale in the world. It was a baby beluga,” and immediately the Raffi song began sloshing through my memories of childhood past. I don’t mean to press on our bleeding hearts for cute creatures, but then again, I kind of do. That whale was goddamned adorable.
If you’re paying much attention to the state of our food affairs, you know that just as our mainland agribusiness capitalizes on irresponsibly produced, inexpensive food for the undereducated and underfunded masses, our oceans are being badly overfished and underwater ecosystems are being destroyed by catch methods such as trawling – a type of net-fishing which indiscriminately catches fish of all types including sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles and scrapes the bottom of the ocean floor, destroying important ecosystems along the way. It’s like trying to harvest wild blueberries, and instead of picking them from the bush, plowing acres of forest with bulldozers and then sifting out the berries (bummer about all those squirrels and trees).
Let’s face it: we’re all a bunch of consumer-fish swimming in a sea of products. How are we supposed to know which products are sustainable unless we can quickly and easily identify them as such? Even then, can we trust the label?
As a society, most of us can quickly identify the organic products on a grocery store shelf by the USDA label, and the Non-GMO Verified label helps us understand which products are least likely to turn us into giant clown-chickens with cancer. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has developed a new labeling system for seafood that, once widely embraced, should help us quickly and effectively choose our chicken-of-the-sea from responsible anglers.
What does “responsible” or “sustainable” actually mean? MSY, or Maximum Sustainable Yield is the largest number of fish that can be harvested from a stock without depleting the abundance of its members or impairing those members’ ability to reproduce effectively. That is the number the MSC is concerned with.
But there’s other important data, too. The new label applies only to wild-caught fish and is awarded when companies follow MSC standards for sustainability of fish populations, and implement practices to minimize environmental impacts. Companies must also prove they are effectively managed to respond to the changing needs of the fish, their ecosystem, and laws applying to fisheries.
Because half of the world’s traded seafood comes from developing nations, it’s important that these nations have access to sustainable supplies of fish, and that they are able to market their products in a growing industry. The MSC works with developing nations to provide access to data collection to assist small fisheries in proving they implement sustainable practices, and helps them obtain certification and the use of the MSC label for marketing purposes.
Watch for the new label. Protect the baby beluga. Do good work with your fork.
Find out more at www.msc.org