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FishChoice.com: Doing your part to protect fisheries just got a whole lot easier

August 19, 2009

FishChoiceBy Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact

As just reported in Gourmet.com, Barry Estabrook comments, “…doing your part to protect fisheries just became a whole lot easier. A new website, FishChoice lists 130 suppliers selling 300 sustainable seafood products, including Americans’ five most popular species: shrimp, tuna, salmon, pollock, and tilapia.”

Fishchoice.com was launched this week, only a few weeks after sustainable seafood was made a hot topic due to the Traitor Joe’s campaign, chiding Trader Joe’s for their lack of a sustainable seafood policy.

After going through a relatively simple registration process, buyers and suppliers gain access to a database of sustainable seafood products that includes origins, catch or farming method and sustainability rankings. Supplier names, location and contact information is provided along with minimum order requirements.

A simple solution for the commercial buyer

In an interview on SeafoodSource.com,  founder Richard Boot shared some insights into FishChoice.

“There are great resources out there for consumers, like the wallet cards, etc. FishChoice differs because we actually find the products that meet those rankings. It’s a simple solution for the commercial buyer,” explained Boot.

He continued, “The great thing about FishChoice is that it’s really offering [suppliers] a platform to get their information to [buyers] who want to find the most sustainable products out there. Another great thing is that a lot [of the suppliers] are American, and being able to support the U.S. fish farming industry is a wonderful thing right now.”

The catch of the day

Here is the catch in my humble opinion.

When you register for free access, you must choose one of the several leading seafood ranking or certification organizations as your “ranking system.” Once you make this decision, you can see which products have met that organizations criteria for an environmentally preferable or certified sustainable seafood product. According to the FishChoice web site, Each of the organizations have powerful and credible tools to assess the sustainability of seafood. They are all good options.”

I chose the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch because that is the system I am most familiar with.  But the choice felt arbritrary.  I peaked at the different web sites to try and see what the key differences are. I am just not familiar enough with these different rating systems to know which is the best choice.

If you need some advice on which ranking system makes the most sense for your business, the web site directs users to  contact FishWise.  Their Director of Operations Matt Owens and Director of Science Dian Morgan were generous with their time in attempting to answer my questions.  The general sense I got is that there are very few differences between the different systems.  It depends in part on a retailers goals, priorities and geographic location.

Decisions.  Decisions…

The FishChoice web site attempts to guide users thoughthe decision on which ranking system to work with. They outline three key factors to think about when selecting an organizations ranking system or certification.

  • If you are already working with an organization within the sustainable seafood community you should pick that organization as your ranking or certification system.
  • You may want to pick an organization that is geographically located near your company if you know their name and trust their reputation.
  • If one of the organizations stands out as a name you have grown to trust, you might want to pick them.

Too bad FishChoice couldn’t get these groups together to make one, consistent rating system to keep it simple.  I worry that some retailers will get lost in this decision and lose interest.

Take-home messages

The take-home messages I came away with include:

I’m sure I am not doing each of these organizations justice, but this is the best I could glean from initial conversations and the web sites.

On a personal note, I was sad to discover while researching this pieace that my sushi favorite Unagi is on the no, no list. I tested the FishPhone system, where you text the name of the fish you want to eat to 30644.  The response to Unagi was “significant environmental concerns.”

FYI–some of the other worst offenders to avoid are farmed Atlantic salmon, monkfish, orange roughy and Chilean seabass.

The science behind the rankings

For those interested in the details, Blue Ocean’s web site does a good job of explaining the points that go into the rankings.

For wild-caught fish, the core points that are considered are:

1. Life history, including how fast the fish grows and how quickly they reproduce.
2. Abundance compared to natural or un-fished levels.
3. Habitat quality and gear impacts – does the catch method damage the habitat for fish that are left behind?
4. Management – are there regulations in place that effectively protect the fish and their ecosystem?
5. Bycatch – are other fish or wildlife accidentally caught when fishing for the target species?

For farmed fish, the core points considered are:

1. Inherent operational risks – this section looks at the layout of the farming system—can waste and fish freely move from the farm to the surrounding environment?
2. Feed examines the diet of the farmed fish, with a particular focus on the reliance of wild-caught seafoods to supply fishmeal and oil.
3. Pollution – is the water being discharged from the farm enclosure treated to minimize impact to the surrounding habitat?
4. Risk to other species considers whether the farmed species is able to escape and have a negative impact on the local environment (e.g. competing for food).
5. Ecological Effects, considers the ecological sensitivity of the area surrounding the fish farm.

Unagi side bar

For you Unagi fans out there, here is the explanation of why eating it is not such a great idea.

Most freshwater eels are farmed in net pens where waste is not treated before being discharged, causing serious environmental pollution. Freshwater eels can also escape from net pens, transferring diseases to wild populations. Freshwater eels are highly carnivorous and require a high protein diet, consisting mostly of fish meal and oil. Because of their complex life history, farming is dependent on wild-caught juveniles, or glass eels, causing wild populations to decline.

***
Deborah Fleischer, founder and president of Green Impact, works with mid-sized companies to launch green initiatives that encourage innovation and grow market share. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. You can follow her occasional tweet at GreenImpact.

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