Regenerative Fisheries – Moving Beyond Sustainable Seafood

Imagine if the fish you ate was produced in a way that actually improved the environment, not just sustained it. But actually brought it back to a healthier and more abundant state than it was for previous generations.

For the last quarter century, the seafood industry, its regulators, NGOs and conservation groups have been striving to get both consumers and producers on board with sustainability.

If looked at globally the results have been mixed, while some fisheries have achieved the goal – the Dungeness crab fishery, Alaskan Wild Salmon, farm shellfish such as live oysters and manila clams – others have not – pollock, haddock, anchovy, Canadian wild salmon, swordfish, Atlantic Cod. Some seafood businesses are standard-bearers for sustainability others fail to see the point. It has been a mixed bag with regard to the adoption of sustainable practices and inculcating sustainability in corporate and consumer consciousness.

Now I’m happy to report that sustainability is soon to be considered irrelevant. Irrelevant?! Yes as a means of gauging environmental health of the marine ecosystem. Because it’s not enough. Sustain what? Sustain an industry with diminishing supply, sustain an unpredictable supply, sustain confusing marine biologist and decision makers setting fishery policy. It’s time for us to do better and to move beyond sustainability into a mode of regenerative practices.

What are regenerative practices?

Imagine if the fish you ate was produced in a way that actually improved the environment, not just sustained it. But actually brought it back to a healthier and more abundant state than it was for previous generations.

We now have the knowledge to consider a regenerative marine policy. Regenerative marine aquaculture has been on policy makers and producers’ radars for the past few years. There are many articles referencing discoveries and existing practices to promote regenerating the environment around fish farms as part of their operation. For example, polyculture is when you have different fish and shellfish species being grown at different levels in the water column in symbiosis to create a thriving single ecosystem.

However, what I am referring to is beyond aquaculture. A larger scale is needed, a regional wild marine ecology and the fisheries that are managed over a wider geography. An easy example are oyster reefs both on the Pacific and Atlantic coast that actually provide so many benefits to the marine environment beyond just sustainable oyster harvesting.

How can we broaden regeneration from a controlled environment to a wider ocean geography?
Sustainability puts the onus on the fisherman, aqua culturists and scientist to figure it out. By broadening the stakeholder base from fishing enterprises to all groups in a watershed, improvements will be seen rather than a stasis.

regenerative practices?

For regenerative fishery policy more participants are needed but the economic benefits go beyond those whose activity is on the water. In Oregon regenerative land based ranching is improving the wild salmon run and has radically improved the livelihood of cattle ranchers, I found this article interesting “How Regenerative Ranching Can Help Save Salmon

The wild salmon industry in BC would be better served if they ditched sustainability for regenerative, as it would require bringing more industry, stakeholders and participants to the table to help solve the crisis.  I know this sounds like a big task, but consensus based models for setting land policy exist we can learn from them in developing regenerative practices for our marine industries.  I will discuss consensus based approached to developing healthy regenerative policy and practices that move beyond sustainability with greater benefits to all in my next blog post.

Thank you for learning more about ‘regenerative’ as the new catch word for improving our ocean environment.

Patrick M. Warren

Patrick M. Warren

The founder of Smokey Bay Seafood Group, which has been in continuous operation since 1998. In addition to having a post graduate education in geography and environmental planning, Pat has been involved in all types of fishery projects from hatchery, nursery, and shellfish grow out; Pacific oyster and manila clam farming, aquaculture, aquaculture feeds, fish feed, and algae production; collaborative purchasing with tribal and first nation communities; the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery, Alaskan king crab, wild salmon, geoduck, scallops and farmed specialty fish such as sable fish, sturgeon, arctic char. As well as ongoing export programs to Asia, Europe, and North America, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Spain, and UK.

During his 26 year career in the seafood industry Patrick also cultivated experience in land use planning and land based resources management. In addition to being a majority shareholder of Sebastian Stuart LLC, a 65,000 square-foot legacy dock and pier in Anacortes, Washington, and the founder of the Eldorado Square in the Central Kootenays, BC. He spent several years as Park Board Commissioner for the city of Vancouver, British Columbia ‘s in the late 90s at a time that saw significant decisions being made for its aquarium, golf courses, seawall, street trees, and community centers for the benefit of all generations.