Joy to the Fishes – Help Making Responsible Seafood Choices in North America

Photo Credit: The US Library of Congress, Cod Fisherman
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-USW3-002175-E (b&w film nitrate neg.) Collier, John, 1913-1992 ]
I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you, World-Eats reader, already have the environment’s best interest in mind as you go about your busy lives. You recycle, you compost, you buy local and in-season produce, you conserve water – Keep It Up!

The good news is that you can be just as thoughtful and conscientious when you choose seafood, whether for a weeknight dinner with the family, a celebration with friends, or even an afternoon snack. The best part? It’s easy!

Start With the Basics

In North America, Seafood Watch,  a program of the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, is regarded as one of the most comprehensive and trusted sustainable seafood guides available for this area. On their user-friendly website, you can search for your favorite seafood and learn whether it’s a sustainability home run (what Seafood Watch calls a ‘Best Choice’), a species with some environmental concerns (a so-called ‘Good Alternative’) or a fish that you should try to avoid. For those of you who like their information on the go, they also have an amazing smartphone app.

Photo Credit: Robin E.H. Ove, eataly-chicago-fish-market
Photo Credit: Robin E.H. Ove

With your newfound knowledge, you’ll be more prepared than ever to make smart seafood choices at your local supermarket. Go to the seafood counter and take note of how much information is provided about each product in the seafood case. The best supermarkets will not just have the name of the fish, it’s country of origin and whether it was wild or farmed, but also information like how the fish was caught or farmed, where specifically it was harvested, the full species name, and sometimes even the name of the fisherman! If none of this information is available, let the store clerk know that it’s information you would like to see. Curious to see how the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. are tackling sustainable seafood issues? Take a look at the latest Greenpeace “Carting Away the Oceans” report, you might be surprised by the results!

Dining Done Right

Choosing sustainable seafood at a restaurant is not always straightforward. There’s only so much space on a menu to include all relevant information about all ingredients. Your servers can be in too much of a rush to satisfactorily answer your questions (although you should still ask them!) and part of the fun of going to a restaurant is placing your trust in the sourcing practices and skill of the chef. To get a head-start on choosing restaurants committed to sustainable seafood sourcing in your area, visit the website and look for the Sustainable Seafood Restaurant Finder. With over 1300 sustainability-focused restaurants listed in North America, you can save the guilt for that slice of pie...

Fresh Caught Mackerel Photo Credit: Robin E. H. Ove
Fresh Caught Mackerel Photo Credit: Robin E. H. Ove


I’m sure many of you in North America have heard of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, but have you heard of Community Supported Fisheries, or CSFs? Like CSAs, CSFs offer paying members regular deliveries of local, seasonal and sustainable seafood, often for a very competitive price. Also, because the seafood often comes directly from the fisherman, you can be sure that the fish you’re sold is fresh. LocalCatch.Org is a great place to find CSFs that serve your area.

-William Wall. Bill has worked in a number of "hands-on" positions within the seafood industry over the last decade, most recently as a Project Director at FishWise, a California based sustainable seafood consultancy.