Food and sustainability

Seasonality and sustainability apply to seafood too

Only with sustainable strategies for fishing and buying seafood products can we preserve the vast wealth that the sea gives us and which is now under serious threat due to human activity.

Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”. This is one of the goals (number 14) in the sustainable development programme recently drawn up by the UN which, according to experts, should guide an out-and-out sustainable transformation on a global scale between now and 2030. Indeed, the marine environment cannot be excluded from the issue because, over the last few years, water pollution, climate change, unauthorised or unsustainable fishing and inattentive shopping practices have led to an extremely worrying situation: many species of fish are disappearing or are close to extinction.

Let’s defend our seas
Seas and oceans are a hugely significant resource for the equilibrium of our planet and the human species. Indeed, over 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water and billions of people around the world rely on fishing to eat and provide for their families. However, many seas are now “unwell”. Pollution is only one of the problems and there can be no doubt about who is to blame: according to a recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), among the most commonly found waste in our seas are plastic items, especially plastic bottles and bags which represent 80% of waste in some seas. Pollution is closely linked to climate change which is having a significant impact on our oceans: greenhouse gas emissions are raising water temperatures and the excess carbon dioxide being released is increasing their acidity, upsetting the delicate balance of the entire ecosystem.

Fish stocks are not inexhaustible
All the experts in the sector agree on one point: fish stocks are not infinite but fish is also an essential part of our diet. As shown by the food pyramid produced by the BCFN and Eating Planet , fish is one of the best sources of proteins for human health. However, sustainability depends directly on the strategies implemented to safeguard fish stocks. This means it is not possible to continue exploiting the seas and the products it provides without taking into account the impact that the quantity and quality of fishing have on our fish stocks. We often hear people talking about ‘overfishing’, meaning the excessive exploitation of fish stocks, which has increased at a surprising rate due to the development of new technologies and laws which are often vague or simply ignored. We are extremely far removed from the times when fishermen only caught what was strictly necessary for them to live on and make a modest income from selling the rest. Nowadays, in order to satisfy market demand, fish are caught using huge ships fitted with sophisticated technology such as radar or sonar in order to find schools of fish and vast nets to catch many tonnes in a single trip. And then there’s pirate fishing, which is often justified using loopholes in the interpretation of laws on fishing in international waters, and uses techniques which are anything but sustainable for fish stocks or the environment in which the fish live.

Advice for buying fish sustainably
BCFN upholds seasonal purchases as a way of guaranteeing the environmental sustainability of what you eat. The concept of seasonality does not just apply to seasonal fruit and vegetables, but also to fish. Buying a fish which has been caught during its breeding season means, in practice, preventing the species from reproducing, thus leading to a population size which is unable to satisfy human consumption. The same problem occurs for fish which are caught when they are too young and have not yet reproduced. As a result, they have not been able to contribute to the continuation of the species.
However, respecting seasonality and opting for fish from local marine habitats is a great way of buying and consuming seafood in a sustainable way, both for the environment and your wallet. For anyone wondering how you can tell which is the “right” fish to choose, you can consult the many guides provided online by associations for the defence of the seas and sustainable fishing (e.g. the Italian site Slow Fish, and the British Marine Conservation Society, to name but a few). And keep an eye on the label: packaging on fish and shellfish is full of information on the product.

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