How do I eat sustainable seafood
Food for the Planet - The Seafood Thing
Because it doesn't matter what we eat
This article is part of our “Food for Future” series, in which we invite you to find out together with us how we can change our eating and purchasing behavior just a little bit so that we and the world are better off. Because what else can we eat when everything seems to be a problem? With informative and entertaining articles, concrete tips for your everyday life and recipes with which you can start right away, we want to inspire you to take the first (or second) steps towards sustainable nutrition.Hereyou will find an overview of all topics.
With this article we arrive in the last week of our “Food for Future” campaign. The topic for the next few days: “Seafood”, ie fish (vertebrate animals) and seafood (shellfish and crustaceans). In this text we take a look together at what the industry is doing, which fish we eat the most in Germany, what we should pay attention to when buying and how our planet is doing. I had a few questions and a lot of question marks floating around in my head before I started researching this text. The more I read, compared, questioned, the more I dealt with my own eating habits. An exciting journey and one with many answers and small, concrete steps that you can easily get used to in your everyday life (you can find more about this below).
We are eating more and more fish
Let's start with an observation from different sources, including that of the Hamburg Fish Information Center, which says: We (Germans) are eating more and more fish. Who is a numbers person: In 2018, the per capita consumption in Germany was 14.5 kg - and the trend is rising. In Portugal and Spain it is three to four times as high as in Germany; in the entire EU this per capita consumption is 25 kg per year.
That doesn't sound like much at first. In comparison, our first article on meat shows that up to 100 kg of meat is eaten per person and year in Germany. So much more than fish and seafood. Nevertheless, it is said that fish is increasingly being used as a meat substitute. Why? Perhaps because most people are now familiar with the carbon footprint of beef and the like.
We know that beef in particular leaves an immense ecological footprint in comparison to other foods (here you can read the infographic on CO₂ emissions again and in this article you will surprisingly find out which everyday food even tops beef) and the trend, increased or To forego meat altogether is becoming more and more popular. It seems like fish often falls through this grid.
Wild catch or aquaculture?
At best, anyone who eats fish knows a little about fishing and how it works. The question of whether one should obtain fish and seafood from sustainable wild catches or from sustainable aquaculture, i.e. from the controlled rearing of living beings from the water, cannot be answered with a clear and simple answer. Wild stocks are threatened again and again because the global demand for fish and seafood continues to increase. If we want to eat more fish than can be fished, then more and more aquacultures come into play. A disadvantage of this is that fish and medicines that are not caught sustainably are often fed, an advantage that certain sustainable standards can be set, guaranteed and, at best, constantly revised and adjusted.
There are various fishing methods for catching wild fish in the open sea. There are different nets for different fish and seafood, which are not necessarily all suitable for the ecological balance in the sea. Ground trawls, for example, are sometimes very heavy and are dragged over long distances across the seabed, thus damaging it. This is one of the reasons why shrimp and salmon have a worse climate balance compared to carp and should only end up on the plate every now and then. In addition, there is often a high bycatch rate, i.e. turtles or dolphins, for example, also end up in the net. As a rough rule of thumb it can be said: No matter which fishing method or rearing is at the beginning, a seal should be at the end. At best, it's ecological so that you can best ensure that the climate and animal welfare have been taken care of.
We mainly eat salmon
Salmon is probably the best-known farmed fish - and a predatory fish. It feeds primarily on other marine animals, including smaller fish, which must first be caught (the origin cannot always be clearly determined here) so that it can then be fed as fish meal: one kilo of salmon needs two to five kilos of animal food . The better choice are fish that follow a vegetarian diet. Specifically, this means: Better to use carp or catfish more. And if with salmon, then maybe consider whether you really need to eat it that often, or whether it comes on the table as something special every now and then. Then it may cost more and you can follow the current recommendation for buying salmon and the preferred seals.
Not all fish guides and seals are equally reliable
What should help you and me when shopping are the various seals and shopping guides published by different sources. During my research, I repeatedly came across sources, including those from WWF and Greenpeace, that are several years old. The consumer center Hamburg (VZHH) has published a fish guide that is up to date from January 2020. He also states that the ratings of fish that are recommended, conditionally recommended and not recommended are valid until March 31, 2020 at the latest, in order to be able to keep the topicality as high as possible. The only problem with fish guides: They read like package inserts and are therefore not particularly accessible.
Current assessments, however, are very important in sustainable fishing because the stock of wild-caught fish, such as herring, naturally changes over the years. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that people are consuming more and more fish and some fish are more popular than others. On the other hand, the increasingly warmer climate is changing the living conditions of some species. To stay with my example: Herring was fished sustainably in the Baltic Sea for a long time, but there are fewer offspring due to the rise in temperature. The result: the herring fishery in this region lost the MSC seal because more herring would be taken from the sea than can be brought in. The development is also confirmed by the Rostock Thünen Institute for Baltic Sea Fisheries (this 30-minute documentary explains this development very clearly).
Seals, i.e. certificates that are based on more or less different standards, offer you and me better access in everyday life. A quick digression to the most famous:
“Marine Stewardship Council” (MSC): You can find this seal in almost every supermarket and certify sustainable wild fishing. However, it is also heavily criticized and perhaps has about the same standing as other stricter fish seals, such as the EU organic certificate, compared to stricter organic seals such as Naturland and Demeter.
Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) is the sister seal to MSC for aquaculture, i.e. breeding stock.
"Global G.A.P." certified organic breeding.
“Friend of the Sea” (FOTS) certified sustainable wild fishing and ecological breeding.
Naturland awards seals for wild catches and aquaculture subject to significantly stricter criteria (also in comparison to the EU eco-seal), among others. also social criteria that protect fishermen and their employees. Here too there is criticism: In some fishing areas, too high a bycatch quota is supposed to be allowed.
Dolphin Safe was specially developed for catching tuna in order to minimize the bycatch of dolphins. However, it does not say anything about whether the fishing was sustainable.
Source:Statista / Fish Information Center / Greenpeace / WWF / VZHH; Total figures in Germany in 2018
Additional info 1: The World Food Organization (FAO) divides the world's oceans into fishing areas. The name or number of the area where the fish was caught is indicated on the packaging.
Additional info 2:In amore recent press release of January 13, 2020 the fish information center explains: “In 2019, consumers also remained loyal to their known fish species and the new fish species quartet of the most important edible fish species in Germany is again in descending order: Alaska pollock, salmon, herring and tuna. But shrimp and squid as well as mussels are also popular. ”
What does all this mean for our everyday life?
The world of fish and seafood seems confusing - at least at first glance. Different seals that cannot be lumped together, the many different fishing areas and fishing methods, sometimes justifiable, sometimes less, can definitely be overwhelming when shopping. What benefits us: According to the Hamburg Fish Information Center, most of us buy mainly fish and seafood from the freezer. On the packaging you should find all the relevant information you need to make a more informed decision. Especially with the five most popular fish species in Germany, you can use the graphic above to help you make a different decision next time. And at the fish counter, the following applies: ask interestedly and ask nicely, but firmly, information that you cannot identify at first glance.
5 tips for everyday life to consume fish and seafood more consciously
1. View seafood as a delicacy rather than a staple food. It's not about completely avoiding the foods you like to eat. But you can learn to enjoy it more consciously.
2. Rely on your curiosity and openness. Try fish species you may be new to to avoid automatically reaching for salmon, tuna, and other popular species. Stay open to plant-based alternatives or cook without fish at all.
3. What are your favorite types of food? Get to know them and know them well when it comes to endangered stocks, the most reliable seals and news about overfishing, so that you can shop in the supermarket as consciously as possible.
4. Find out about regional fish species and avoid long production chains as much as possible. This website supports the northern German area: www.fischvomkutter.de.
5. Find out about the various seals and question them critically. Seals support us in purchasing, but each has its own standards and not all of them are acceptable for each of us. In principle, products that have been awarded an organic or environmental seal such as Naturland are to be preferred. The most up-to-date shopping guides (e.g. from the VZHH) will also help you in the supermarket.
Personally, this (backward) questioning helps me again and again not only to make myself aware of what I eat every day, but also of what I really like. And that doesn't stop with fish and seafood. If I really appreciate and enjoy an ingredient, then I'm automatically looking for the best possible version of it. Certain dishes and products - including fish and seafood - become a delicacy that is then eaten every now and then and then celebrated all the more.
Our goal with the “Food for Future” campaign is to give you and us an overview and to learn from one another. As a consequence, we hope that we will all remain critical, that we understand, recognize and question connections. Perhaps this and the other articles in this series on the subject of meat, soy and dairy products will help you keep walking the world with curiosity and realize that you and everyone else have quite a lot of power without having to do much: How you eat what you buy affects the market and can make a difference in the world.
5 recipes for your meal plan that can do without fish at all
Published on June 23, 2020
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