As the oceans go, so goes the planet

By Bill Carvalho, President and Founder, Wild Planet

Sustainability is a humbling word. It infers that the living planet earth is elegantly balanced and disrupting its equilibrium can debilitate its life sustaining function. In short, sustainability is what will allow Planet Earth to continue sustaining life. Earth is an ocean planet. Covering 70 percent of earth’s surface, the oceans are earth’s largest habitat. Poignantly, as the oceans go, so goes the planet.

When I as a seafood industry participant made a commitment to ocean conservation in 2001, the word sustainable was hardly used. I referred to our company’s mission shift as a choice to be “eco-friendly.” At that time, most seafood companies denied there was a problem; they fought environmentalists at every turn, asserting there were plenty of fish and that environmental organizations were exaggerating any cause for concern. Oh, how that has all changed!

Today sustainability is the axiom, it is good business, and it is nearly required. This is good, as real ocean environmental protection and restoration are critically needed. But it comes with an inherent danger. The danger lies in the potential for commercial interests to hijack the term sustainability and dilute it’s meaning to include practices that damage the ocean’s diversity and productivity.

So, simply put in terms anyone can understand, what factors must be considered to declare a fishery sustainable? (Note that a fishery in this context is a wild capture effort made by a number of vessels that target certain species in a specific region with defined gear/catch method). There are three main factors:

1.    The stock biomass must be healthy and not overfished.
2.    The habitat must not be damaged by the fishing method.
3.    The catch method must be free of excessive by-catch of non-target species.

Each of these factors requires a fairly complex consideration of scientific data. This data is compiled by a variety of organizations including academic, governmental, environmental and industrial or trade. And it is important to consider the raw data, the facts emerging from the harvest records and observer archives. These data points are specific, yet they can be interpreted and construed to support predetermined views. This is the confusing part of sustainable seafood.

Wild Planet Foods does not endorse only one organization as having the perfectly balanced answer to sustainability. There are a variety of groups providing insight on sustainable seafood. There are eco-logo schemes like Friend of the Sea (FOS) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that certify individual fisheries and provide on-package logos as part of their programs. These schemes offer a good service to a limited number of fisheries able to pay for that process. However, there is an absence of information on most products being sold.

There are also environmental groups that rate seafood with a system of “yes, maybe, no.”  These groups like Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch or Ocean Wise in Canada rate seafood choices as GREEN, YELLOW or RED. Wild Planet appreciates the work these organizations do, as they are not affiliated with a particular trade organization and they do not commercialize their programs for branded self-promotion. The data presented in the extensive reports published by these non-governmental organizations provides the primary guidance for Wild Planet Foods’ seafood sourcing decisions. The consensus of all such organizations provides reliable guidance for Wild Planet.

Some key positive recommendations of these rating organizations are:

Pole and troll caught albacore tuna from the North Pacific

Pole caught skipjack and Yellowfin tuna also from the Pacific

Pacific sardines caught with selective purse seines

Alaskan pink and sockeye salmon

These products form the core of Wild Planet Foods’ shelf-stable product lineup.  We endeavor to educate consumers on issues of sustainable sourcing and provide only all-star products representing the best choices in responsibly sourced seafood.

Of course, selecting seafood often starts with taste; it also involves a potent nutritional choice for health and wellness. Wild Planet Foods champions these critical consumer preferences by formulating products that are as good as they can possibly be. However, in order for future generations to enjoy this same luxury of delicious, nutritious seafood, this generation must act sustainably in behalf of its Wild Ocean Planet. It is a humbling thought; it is also a vital imperative!

Bill Carvalho, President of Wild Planet Foods, is a seafood industry veteran with more than twenty years of experience in nearly all areas of operations and responsibilities. In 1990, Mr. Carvalho founded the seafood company Carvalho Fisheries, which grew to become a major primary receiver and producer of a wide range of West Coast seafood products. From this company sprang Wild Planet Foods in 2004. Wild Planet Foods is mission driven to promote wild seafood products harvested only from ecologically exemplary fisheries. Through public education about the best choices of seafood consumption, Wild Planet Foods aims to impact consumer choices and provide market driven change in global harvest practices.

2 Responses to “As the oceans go, so goes the planet”

  1. Meri

    love this piece, but am beginning to wonder if seafood guide cards etc. are really helpful in defining sustainability. When we talk about agriculture we talk about food; fish, too is consumed sold etc. as food, but is being managed for biological resources, (which agreed it should).

    But something’s missing without including food systems as part of a fisheries management plan –

    with an emphasis soley on consumefr choice, marketing and branding…people will truly not understand their connection to the resource, and unfortunately neglect to understand – the ocean is fluid dynamic and what a card says today, could be a recipe for disaster in the future, particularly in the face of climactic change and uncertainty.


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