How To Make Sustainable Seafood Choices - Ecobuy
Sustainable Seafood

Meat production is an incredibly unsustainable industry. Livestock and its by-products already account for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, and it is estimated that by 2050, agricultural emissions will have increased by 80%. It takes 15,415 litres of water just to produce one kilogram of beef. Luckily, cutting out a few foods from our diets and making informed decisions about the food we buy and eat can go a long way in reducing these enormous carbon and water footprints.

Many of us will already have heard that veganism is the most sustainable diet. While this is true, the first step of cutting out red meat makes a drastic difference, and is the most productive change we can undertake to eat more sustainably.

In this article, we will explore the benefits of switching to a pescatarian diet (this means a vegetarian diet plus seafood).

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Why is seafood the more sustainable source of animal protein?
Less methane

Meat that comes from ruminant animals – cows, goats, and sheep – produces the highest carbon footprint per gram of protein. Ruminant animals require a specialised bacteria to digest their food, which releases high levels of methane in the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential that is 86 times greater than that of carbon dioxide, and is the second largest contributor to man-made climate change. The danger of methane emission disappears with a pescatarian diet.

Less land use and soil degradation

Land based agriculture is extremely damaging to the quality of the land and soil. Hoofed animals like cows kick up the top soil of land which is crucial to protect soil quality and fertility. Producing feed for grazing animals requires an enormous area of land, and devoting large amounts of land to single crops causes a problem known as monocropping. What is monocropping? This occurs when farmers grow the same crop on the same land year after year, soil quality degrades. To yield the same amount of crop, farmers end up using more and more fertilisers and pesticides.

The increasing demand for meat worldwide, combined with the land intensive nature of the meat industry, have contributed significantly to deforestation. Cattle ranching in Amazon countries accounts for 80% of its deforestation. Even in Australia, 75% of Australian rainforests have been cleared, and much of that land is now used for animal agriculture.

Fishing is not as resource heavy or land intensive as producing beef, pork, or chicken. Hence, it does not contribute as much to problems like desertification, acid rain, and soil erosion.

Is all seafood more sustainable than meat?

Meat the comes from ruminant animals like cows, goats, and sheep, are the biggest polluters in the animal agriculture industry. What about other meats like poultry and pork? How do these compare with seafood? Which are less carbon and resource intensive?

This question is difficult to answer. Fishing practices greatly vary between companies and countries. While some seafood is a sustainable alternative, others are not. This makes it all the more important for consumers to be smart about their choices. Luckily, websites like GoodFish make this easy by providing a helpful overview of sustainable seafood choices in Australia.

What makes seafood sustainable?

This depends on two questions. Is the fish caught or farmed? Where is the catching and farming happening?

Is the fish caught or farmed?
  • MSC’s blue fish label

    MSC’s blue fish label

    Wild caught seafood: Fishermen catch wild seafood in natural marine environments. Look for MSC’s blue fish label. This label will tell you if overfishing was avoided and that rare and protected species weren’t accidentally caught.

  • ASC’s green fish label

    ASC’s green fish label

    Farmed seafood: Aquaculturists breed farmed seafood in controlled water environments. Look for ASC’s green fish label. This tell us if responsible aquaculture standards have been met. This means that the fish was farmed in an ethical way that takes care of workers and limits ecological impacts.

Too much reliance on wild caught seafood is problematic as it becomes difficult to maintain fish population levels and can easily lead to overfishing. This is a big problem! In fact, 80% of the world’s fish stocks are already overfished. At the same time, governments need to carefully regulate farmed seafood to ensure that aquaculture practices are as sustainable as they can be. In other words, we need a balance of both.

Where is the catching and farming happening?

Transportation is a major polluter in the production process of seafood. This is because seafood need to be transported quickly in refrigerated conditions. This is energy and fuel intensive. Locally produced seafood doesn’t need to be transported over long distances. Buying locally produced seafood also means that the food is fresher, and we can be sure that fishing and health regulations are being followed.

Does it really matter where the fish comes from?

Where and how we source our seafood makes a big difference.


Octopus (Goodfish)

Let’s use octopus as an example. Whether or not octopus is a sustainable seafood depends on where they are caught.

GoodFish claims that wild caught octopus from Western Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania are good choices. This is because these fisheries have a growing population of octopus and avoid overfishing. The methods they use for catching octopus have little impact on seafloor habitats and other fish species’ populations. However, New South Wales and Queensland practice trawling, which is more harmful. Imported octopus is another unsustainable choice. This is because we don’t know if other countries following strict fishing regulations.

So which fish are sustainable to eat?

As long as we make informed seafood choices, it is easy to avoid seafood with large eco-footprints. One easy way is to check for the blue and green fish label when you shop. Use this guideline to start your sustainable seafood journey!

In Australia, try choosing:

  • Australian and king salmon, not Atlantic salmon
  • Yellowfin bream, not snapper
  • Jade perch, not ocean perch
  • Australian farmed prawn, not wild caught prawn
  • Calamari or sustainably caught octopus, not squid or cuttlefish
  • Oysters and clams, not scallops