The recent decision by the Japanese Government to comply with the International Court of Justice ruling and call off the whale hunt in the Antarctic (which is a great step towards protecting ocean biodiversity…and good news for whales), reminded me of something that happened to me while living in Japan. There are certain foods that are discounted every evening before the grocery stores close in Japan. This includes prepared foods, so that nothing even remotely stale is sold the next day. It’s a great way to save money. Well, one evening I took my break and ran across the street to the grocery store to grab dinner and bring it back to the school to eat. I grabbed some discount sashimi. The Japanese characters were unfamiliar and I didn’t recognize the type of fish, but that wasn’t unusual since I lived in a port town that always had different types of in-season fish for sale. As you may have already guessed, I discovered while eating that it was whale.
Remembering that meal helped me decide on my fourth activity. Be more conscious of my food-buying decisions and ensure I’m purchasing only sustainable seafood.
Aquaculture is the fastest growing food production activity in the world and is an integral part of Canada’s economy. According to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), fish and seafood is Canada’s second largest food export (next to wheat). Market demands on fishstocks have resulted in overfishing as well as the application of a number of harmful fishing and aquaculture practices. Having recognized decreasing commercial yields despite increased fishing effort, there has been a global shift towards more sustainable fishing practices.
The DFO broadly defines sustainable fishing practices as those that meet our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. There are a number of factors that go into determining the sustainability of a particular sea creature – and the list is always changing. The good news is, a lot of fish and seafood is being cultivated and harvested in a responsible manner. There are several third-party certifications for wild and farmed fishing operations, but as a consumer, you may not see the certifications and it is probably easiest to use tools developed by programmes like Ocean Wise or SeaChoice. Both programmes recommend fish species to purchase, or avoid based on factors such as resilience to fishing pressures and cultivation or harvest methods. Sustainable harvest methods involve limiting habitat damage and bycatch (incidental capture of non-target species – sometimes endangered species) through modifying gear, choosing responsible fishing routes or depths, and through choice of bait. Aquaculture concerns include: pollution caused by fish farms, disease and parasite transfer, choice and environmental impact of feed, use of chemicals, and management. SeaChoice also looks at health and considers factors such as mercury levels in certain fishstock.
I downloaded both the Oceanwise and SeaChoice apps so that I could compare their usefulness. Oceanwise is more geared towards restaurants (and includes a database of Oceanwise certified restaurants and markets), while SeaChoice is geared more towards retail. Both of the apps have a searchable database, though, and this is the important part because it makes either useful in any situation. The SeaChoice app has a handy sushi directory, which would be extremely useful if you were looking at a menu with Japanese fish names.
I’ve used both apps to search some of the seafood I commonly buy to make at home (so far it looks like I’ve been making fairly good decisions with the exception of some sole I bought last week). I also ran some of the offerings from a few local restaurants (based on their online menus) through the databases just to see what information I would come across. A couple of items weren’t listed on the SeaChoice database, so I think I’ll stick to the Oceanwise app moving forward.
Now I just have to figure out what to do with the sole in my freezer…