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The New Sustainable Seafood Movement

Feb 24, 2017 07:55PM ● By Marsh Skeele and Nicolaas Mink

Kelley Jordan Photography

For a generation, Americans have demanded sustainable seafood procedures that preserve marine ecosystems. Eco-labels have sprung up on supermarket packaging, and restaurant and grocery chains are making sure that the fish they serve is ecologically friendly. But in the last few years, the world of seafood has crossed a new frontier. There’s a new movement afoot that takes a cue from America’s small-boat fishing fleets to recast the concept.

         After decades of understanding sustainable seafood as an abstract, ecological ideal, consumers are now turning to the fishermen and fishing communities that are intimately tied to the fisheries themselves and depend on healthy fish populations for their own sustainability. There are three pillars to this new sustainable seafood movement.

         First, knowing the fishermen is just as important as knowing the fish. Consumers have made past fish choices based on eco-labels that don’t always take into account the social and community dimensions of a fishery. There are too many that have great environmental credentials, but poor track records of their treatment of workers or their benefit to the communities where they harvest the fish. There are some large factory boats that harvest fish in an ecologically sustainable manner while also enslaving workers. 

         Second, America’s small-scale, community-based fishermen are the best stewards of our fishery resources. Buying from them does more to ensure that we have good fish on our plates in the future than just about anything else a consumer a can do. These entrepreneurs fish for the future, so they can hand their independent operations down to their children and their grandchildren. They do it because they are invested in the long-term success of their communities that have historically depended on fish.

         Third, “Who fishes matters!” is a slogan of the North Atlantic Marine Alliance (NamaNet.org) that serves as a clarion call for the new sustainable seafood movement. Both NAMA and Local Catch (LocalCatch.org) provide good boat-to-fork information to help consumers do their research. Those that enjoy dining on fish should know who caught their fish and what type of gear they use; what kind of operation the fisherman runs, such as independent or industrial, and where and how that fisherman lands their fish. Having answers to these questions will produce the bright future that many see for the sustainable seafood movement in the decades to come.

Marsh Skeele and Nicolaas Mink are the co-founders of Sitka Salmon Shares, a company of 15 community-based fishermen/owners that harvest, process and sell their own catch directly to consumers and chefs in the Midwest. For more information, visit SitkaSalmonShares.com.

To learn more about sustainable seafood from Mink and other experts, attend the Good Food Festival, Mar. 18, for the discussion Sustainable Seafood: What’s It All About? Find registration and more information at GoodFoodFestivals.com.