Study assesses sustainability of seafood farming methods

As more grocery stores commit to sourcing 'sustainable' seafood, research looks at the viability and impact of farming.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Anyone who, like me, enjoys their protein from the sea and yet has a huge love of marine life will appreciate a new report from the University of Victoria (in Canada) and the Pew Environment Group. The study emerges as more of the biggest grocery stores and food suppliers heighten their attention to seafood sourcing policies.

The report, called "How Green is Your Eco-label?", looks at the different labels that suppliers use to designate and describe the "farming" used to harvest certain catches. So, lets be clear. This study is about fish that is farmed commercially rather than caught in the wild. The study doesn't cover freshwater farmed fish including tilapia and catfish. It covers primarily salmon, cod, turbot and grouper.

The idea behind the study is to assess whether labels such as "organic" are really meaningful and whether farming as a method of raising seafood is viable, environmentally speaking. Indeed, the study found that the cumulative environmental impact of many smaller farms might overwhelm the benefits of fewer, larger farms subscribing to certified methods.

University of VIctoria researcher and marine ecologist John Volpe comments on the research:

"Our research shows that most eco-labels for farmed marine fish offer no more than a 10 percent improvement over the status quo. With the exception of a few outstanding examples, one-third of the eco-labels evaluated for these fish utilize standards at the same level or below what we consider to be conventional or average practice in the industry."

The research emerges as major grocers and warehouse clubs accelerate their commitment to seafood sourcing policies that are more environmentally sensitive and sustainable over the long term.

For example, in mid-October, Target said it will only sell seafood that is "sustainable and traceable" in its stores by 2015. The move follows changes in its sourcing policies for salmon, and the retailers will develop its policies in conjunction with FishWise,

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