By Michael Rubino
September 28, 2019
I love October—and not only for the fall colors and crisp morning bike rides here in the Mid-Atlantic. October is National Seafood Month, which gives me an opportunity to shine a light on U.S. leadership in sustainable seafood production, and underscore the critical role sustainable seafood will play in the health of people and the future of our blue-ocean planet.
With their close proximity to consumers and often first-time seafood diners, chefs have long been in a unique position to help educate and influence the choices consumers make. In celebration of National Seafood Month, I want to thank chefs for their commitment to sourcing sustainably, and underscore why advancing sustainable seafood on their menus may be more important than they know.
Sustainable seafood helps align consumers’ needs for healthy protein with environmental practices necessary to ensure supplies are sustainably produced.
When you think about it, seafood touches all manner of environmental and socio-economic issues. From human rights to environmental impacts, to healthy brains and bodies, to jobs that sustain communities, seafood is central to a healthy population and planet.
Seafood can be harvested and produced sustainably, and this also helps contribute to environmental sustainability. In the United States, we’ve demonstrated this repeatedly, both in our wild-capture and farmed fishing operations. Farmed or wild, seafood is an environmentally efficient way to produce protein. It takes little feed, fuel, carbon emissions and space to grow or harvest seafood relative to many other forms of protein.
On the world stage, the United States is recognized as a global leader in sustainable seafood. From evolving one of the most dynamic, accountable, and innovative wild-capture fishery management systems in the world and advancing the science and technologies characterizing modern, responsible fish farming to actively working in the international arena to export our sustainable practices, standards and technologies—the United States has set the gold standard for sustainable fisheries and responsible seafood production.
On the wild side, U.S. fishermen abide by the most robust stewardship laws in the world. Evolving over the past 40 years, the results of our science-based management system are staggering, with a total of 45 stocks rebuilt since 2000, and overfishing and overfished stocks at historic lows. However, many rebuilt species have lost their place in the market to cheaper seafood imports. Chefs are working to put these species back on our plates and rewarding our fishermen for their hard work and accountability to sustainable harvesting practices.
While we are pulling a lot of wild fish out of the water, it’s not enough to meet our national seafood demand. And because we are not growing our own seafood to supplement that demand—producing only 1 percent of global aquaculture product (16th in global production)—we largely rely on seafood imports from other nations to provide the species we prefer to eat.
Globally, wild-capture fisheries have been pretty well maximized, with harvest levels nearly unchanged over the past 20 years. With the global population estimated to reach 9 billion in 2030, it is imperative to supplement our consumption of wild fish by responsibly growing those species we favor as food.
The good news is that the United States is a leading innovator in modern aquaculture science and technologies, with rigorous environmental and labor laws and with vast open ocean territory. We have ample opportunity to grow more seafood in a responsible way.
By expanding domestic aquaculture, the United States will continue our leadership in sustainable seafood production. As Senior Advisor for Seafood Strategy at NOAA Fisheries, I look forward to working with chefs to help tell the good stories, educate consumers and move seafood forward as a key component for driving change to a healthy population and planet.
Chefs Make the Connection
Chefs are great at visiting and getting to know their suppliers: fishermen and seafood farmers. While we all have an iconic image of the “family farm” and the sentiment it evokes for supporting local producers, few of us have an understanding or realistic image of U.S. seafood farms.
Chefs can play a huge role in telling the story of U.S seafood farming and putting a human face on aquaculture. Local seafood farms provide local food and jobs and help to sustain working waterfronts important to commercial fishing. Many tools and people are available to help chefs introduce customers to these suppliers.
For more info on U.S. sustainable seafood, visit FishWatch.gov.
Aquaculture by the Numbers
Aquaculture Production Highlights (2016)