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Importance of sustainable seafood

Theresa Ralogaivau
Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Sustainable Seafood - What is it?

I've recently discovered that it's not strictly an environmentalist's jargon for us to push aside and ignore.

Sustainable seafood is not so much a common term in Fiji like sustainable forests, sustainable lifestyle, sustainable development and a sustainable economy.

So I've added sustainable seafood to my list of important words to know and with familiarity springs a desire to lend a helpful voice to our understanding of sustainable seafood.

Sustainability is the capacity to endure so in this respect it is for our natural resources to endure, for our generation and the next, and the next, and the next!

Sustainable seafood is harvested from fished sources without causing jeopardy to the ecosystem from which they are acquired.

For example, think of the 'saqa' or trevally that you bought from the fish market recently and ponder the following questions.

Did removing the 'saqa' from the sea reduce the population of the whole species of saqa, or in the process of catching the 'saqa' did the fishing method employed result in the accidental capture of a 'varivoce' or humphead wrasse, a fish species which is nationally and internationally recognised as endangered.

If yes, then the 'saqa' doesn't qualify as sustainable seafood. Remember this is just an example. The idea is for us to start talking about this, become more aware of our surroundings and resources. More often than not, it's only when there's an occurrence for example of ciguatera fish poisoning or if we find excessive oily substance on our fish that we start paying attention.

But then it just doesn't apply to fish. How about the undersized 'qari' or mud crabs you bought for your spicy 'surua' dish?

Clearly removing the qari in its infancy annihilated its ability to reproduce and maintain or even increase the qari population which in our case would be to enjoy for future consumption.

Or turtle meat, bought from a roadside vendor, even though turtles are listed as critically endangered species which means that their numbers have drastically decreased and are in danger of being lost as a species.

Legally allowed sizes of seafood are outlined in the Fisheries Act, and we will introduce this to you in the following series.

Why Care?

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature - "once considered inexhaustible the world's oceans are in a state of collapse."

The organisation further states more than 70 per cent of the world's commercial marine fish stocks are either fully exploited or overfished.

We have harvested at a rate faster than our marine resources can replenish.

What it basically means to me is that if we continue on this trend, my grandchildren may very well not get to enjoy a wonderful plate of fish in lolo, traditional to my diet and that of my ancestors.

Unthinkable and it makes you think, right? I hope so, because it bothers me. An ocean without fish or other seafood? Unacceptable!

Aside from its aesthetic value, the loss of the plate of fish is an important nutritional issue for Pacific island countries where fish is the largest single source of animal protein.

Globally, according to the World Bank Report "Pacific Island Economies: Building a Resilient Economic Base for the Twenty First Century," over one billion people rely on fish as their main source of protein.

For us Pacific islanders, fisheries have always occupied an important position in our lives because of our reliance on coastal and offshore fisheries resources as a source of food and income.

Jonasa from Korotubu village in Macuata province told me recently that these days he has to go further out and stay longer at sea to get a good catch (some for subsistence needs and some to sell).

"It's unlike the old days and even our women find difficulties in getting shellfish," he said. The warning signs are there, it all depends on our willingness to read the signs and act on them.

Solutions

The sustainable seafood movement has given rise to global organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that encourages sustainable fisheries through a certification program and eco-labelling of sustainably caught seafood products.

WWF and other organisations have come up with guides telling you which seafood to enjoy and which seafood to stay away from.

Consumers guides, restaurants cooking up sustainable seafood menus, chefs' crusades for sustainable seafood and higher prices means sustainable seafood is the future.

What can we do locally, individually?

Asking the right questions at the fish markets about the fish we buy, how they are fished, and is it a fish that is declining in numbers.

Don't buy undersized crabs, shy away from turtles to give them a chance to grow in numbers.

The word sustainably encompasses the concept of good stewardship, a responsibility for properly managing our resources and ensuring they last into the unforeseeable future.

Being good stewards means being responsible, as fishers, as buyers, and as consumers.

When we choose sustainable seafood we encourage responsible harvesting of our marine resources, save our oceans and ultimately protect ourselves.

I want to continue enjoying my 'surua' and 'saqa miti' so I choose sustainable seafood!

* Theresa Ralogaivau is the Communications Officer at the WWF South Pacific Programme office