What is sustainable seafood?

In order to answer that question, we should first define sustainability. The term ‘sustainable’ is commonly and loosely used to define practices that don’t degrade the physical and natural environment to the point that it diminishes its longevity.

Longevity is the key word. As first defined in 1986 by the United Nations Environmental Program UNEP in the Brundltand Report, ‘sustainable’ is to maintain a resource and its natural environment for future generations. There is an inter-generational component that is key to understanding its implications on fisheries, aquaculture, and shoreline protection.

Is the seafood that we sell, or that we eat sustainable?

Can we be sure that what we’re consuming today will be there for future generations to enjoy?

The short answer is ‘no’ we cannot be certain. The ocean is vast and our climate environment Is rapidly influencing ocean currents, coastal and upland geomorphology to a degree that fish harvested with the utmost attention to sustainability, may be being degraded due to economic activity hundreds of kilometers upstream from its source. As with the connection of forestry practices on wild pacific salmon populations.

that we eat sustainable?

If we were to look at California Market Squid, once abundant and now a rarity. Was this due to wreckless overfishing? Or the change in ocean currents that have pushed warmer water farther north and the squid along with it. A dwindling squid population in SoCal, that are now living happily in abundance off the Pacific coast of Canada.

I would’ve given the market squid my sustainable stamp of approval 25 years ago when I started in the seafood sourcing business.  It lasted for several generations and sustained communities all up and down the California coast for a hundred years. There was ample scientific data and a coordination between government and fishermen, and we thought we had its sustainable harvest dialed.  Yet in 2018 Smokey Bay Seafood shut down its office located at the historic Signal Place squid dock in San Pedro, CA and relocated to Washington State. 

Signal Place was a large iconic looking fish packing warehouse. It headquartered the dirty dozen for nearly 80 years (The dirty dozen is slang name given to 12 founding California fishing companies that set up shop in Monterey Bay, then eventually Ventura and San Pedro, over 100 years ago). It was a sad day when our company left that building. We were one of the last companies to vacate that historic site that house fishing power housed such as Tomich Brothers, Standard Fisheries, J Deluca, Star Fisheries to name a few. Our small trading company Smokey Bay Seafood USA, Inc.  a dwindling shadow of the greatness that once was there.

So all this above being said, I certainly hope the seafood we sell is sustainable. We do the necessary steps to make sure our products meet the environmental and sustainable standards that our customers would want and expect.  These steps include traceability, monitoring, preventive control, and verification.

California Market Squid

Smokey Bay Seafood uses a mix of these systems – traceability, monitoring, preventive control, and verification –  along with the procedures specified in our MSC license (Marine Stewardship Council certification), as well as cross-referencing with the Ocean Wise Monthly updated lists. This is in addition to our SFCR (Safe Food for Canadians license), our FDA Interstate shellfish shippers license WA-1559, as well as our Canadian Food inspection agency CFIA ECP export control program, and ICP import control program. These are the main ones. But they are even more permits and licenses in play to make sure the seafood we sell is considered sustainable.

Yet, unless you actually know the person that caught the fish all the paperwork in the world can’t give you certainty. You have to see for yourself.

As a source seafood trading firm, Smokey Bay Seafood team buyers have the opportunity to meet our suppliers at source. Many are seafood producers who have been operating for several generations.  Furthermore, all suppliers must sign off on an SQA that confirms their commitment to sustainable practices and the systems mentioned above.

This is the first blog post of a five-part series that will explore the definition, the reach, and the future of sustainability of the seafood we sell and other renewable resources related to it.

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.