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Turning the Tides

Vancouver’s Ocean Wise helps consumers make informed decisions.

Oceans cover nearly three-­quarters of the Earth’s surface and are home to countless marine species. However, despite the oceans’ vast size and seemingly endless bounty, fish populations are being rapidly depleted. Ocean Wise Seafood Specialist, Theodora Geach, explains that since the seventies, the consumption of seafood has doubled worldwide; nearly 90 per cent of the oceans’ large predatory fish species have been fished out. A solution to this growing concern starts with educating and empowering consumers who create the demand for seafood.

Overfishing—catching too many of one species, leaving the population unable to sustain itself or withstand further fishing—is currently one of the greatest threats to our oceans. To keep up with the growing demand for seafood, fishing companies have increased their fleet sizes and implemented more productive fishing practices. While these new methods increase yield, they also deplete fish populations and damage marine ecosystems. Other negative environmental repercussions include habitat loss and unwanted bycatch—the ­unintentional capture of non-target species—including endangered species and corals.

Ocean Wise is a conservation program founded by the Vancouver Aquarium in 2005. Its goal is to promote and provide education about sustainable seafood: species that have been caught in a way that supports the growth of fish populations and minimizes damage to ocean habitats. When consumers choose sustainable seafood, it allows fish populations to replenish and marine ecosystems to thrive. Ocean Wise is addressing the issue of overfishing by raising awareness about the impact that consumers have on the oceans.

If a species meets Ocean Wise’s criteria, it is marked as sustainable, receives Ocean Wise certification (and the use of their logo), and is added to their recommended seafood list. This list is continuously updated and species are re-classified as new research is made available.

Sustainable seafood is not limited to Canada’s coastlines; the rest of the country is becoming hooked as well. Planet Shrimp, located in Aylmer, Ontario (already an Ocean Wise certified partner), has transformed an old tobacco warehouse into a viable shrimp farm that will produce fresh, succulent, sustainable shrimp ready to harvest and ship to Ontario markets. CEO and founder Misha Andric explains that, “when fully developed, the facility is set to produce up to three million pounds of Pacific White Shrimp annually.” Once harvested, the shrimp will be shipped on ice within one to two hours. While still currently in development, Planet Shrimp is set to start harvesting organic, ­antibiotic-free shrimp in August 2016.

Theodora Geach notes that only 10 per cent of the oceans’ top species remain; making informed consumer decisions has never been more important. Positive change to industry practices begins with people making a commitment to supporting sustainable seafood. Every choice we make counts, and Ocean Wise is making it easier to identify the best options available. With over 600 business partners, Ocean Wise is working hard to make sustainable seafood the only option available worldwide. As consumers, we can help secure a stable future for our oceans.

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Ocean Wise Criteria
In an attempt to help consumers make the most informed decisions possible, Ocean Wise provides a recommended seafood list. Their recommendations are based on four criteria: 1. The species must be abundant in population and resilient to fishing demands. 2. The fishery must be managed according to the most recent research and with regulations that ensure that the species’ population is never overfished. 3. The species must be caught in a way that restricts bycatch. 4. The species must be caught in a manner that minimizes damage to the ocean habitat.