Many Canadians have heard about the health benefits of eating fish and seafood, but sitting down to a pescatarian meal can be a cause of concern for anyone concerned about the health of our planet. While most dietitians will recommend incorporating fish into your diet for a necessary hit of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the damage that overfishing can do to ocean ecosystems.
Enter the concept of sustainable seafood. Ocean Wise, a global conservation organization based out of Vancouver, defines sustainable seafood as “species that are caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem.” Ocean Wise monitors the method, targeted species, and location of fisheries to determine if its product is causing as little harm to the environment as possible. Packaged seafood and restaurant items that pass muster get labeled with a logo to help consumers make ocean-friendly choices.
Advocating against infractions like overfishing and the by-catch of endangered species is good for ocean ecosystems. Still, consumers aren’t always clear if choosing sustainable seafood is also good for their bodies, especially when it comes to the prevention of diseases like cancer. Private registered dietitian Rory Hornstein says that there’s no evidence that sustainable seafood is lower in chemicals or contaminants than non-sustainable options or that it has a higher content of vitamins and minerals. Even so, she says that anything that encourages people to feel good about regularly eating fish and seafood is positive in her books.
“It’s important to look at what fish has to offer in general before looking at the sustainability factor,” Hornstein says. “Fish is high in protein and generally contains so many vitamins and minerals. Higher fat fish that’s high in omega-3 is believed to have health benefits when it comes to heart health and research has also linked omega-3s to the prevention of certain cancers like liver cancer.”
Hornstein says that choosing sustainable seafood is actually quite easy to do in Alberta — she says it’s often more readily available than non-sustainable seafood, especially for shoppers who are willing to buy canned fish or species they’re less familiar with. As with fresh vegetables or fruit, she encourages consumers to learn to expand their seafood repertoire to incorporate less common or popular species when they’re available.
“Choose a fish variety that’s in season rather than just sticking to salmon year-round,” Hornstein says. “It’s important to branch out and create a market for underutilized fish and to help the environment.”
While making the conscious decision to buy sustainable seafood doesn’t necessarily have a direct correlation to physical health, it can give consumers peace of mind while digging into a plate of seafood. Ocean Wise’s Seafood Program Manager Sophika Kostyniuk argues that protecting the oceans can help in the fight against climate change and keeping fisheries sustainable means that we will all be able to enjoy the health benefits of seafood for generations to come. Coupled with a burgeoning bioplastic industry — which involves the development of plastics made from underwater vegetation that will biodegrade rather than pollute ocean habitats — Kostyniuk says that more and more people are seeing value in protecting the oceans.
“I firmly believe that what we do to the oceans we do to ourselves,” she says. “It’s a bigger-picture view, but we know that the oceans are the largest producers of the oxygen we breathe. If heavily intensive industrial fishing practices damage ocean ecosystems, the oceans will not be as resilient and won’t be able to support us to their greatest abilities.”
Kostyniuk says that Ocean Wise products are available at nearly 800 unique businesses across Canada and about 3,100 storefronts. She advises customers to look for the Ocean Wise logo on seafood cases at grocery stores like Sobeys and Save on Foods, as well as independent fish markets. Many fine-dining chefs in Alberta make a point of cooking exclusively with Ocean Wise products, but customers can also find sustainable seafood at chains like Hula Poke and Moxie’s Grill & Bar. For a full list of Ocean Wise partners, visit seafood.ocean.org.
Pan-Seared Salmon with Blood Orange Fennel Salad
Recipe courtesy of Ocean Wise
8 oz Ocean Wise recommended salmon fillet
5 oz oyster mushrooms
1/2 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 bulb of fennel
1 blood orange
2 cloves of garlic, minced
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
2. Roast cherry tomatoes in 500-degree oven with salt, pepper and good olive oil until blistered. Set aside.
3. Next, sauté mushrooms with olive oil, garlic and season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Keep warm and set aside.
4. Segment one blood orange and keep juices. Trim fennel, remove core and slice thin.
5. Mix fennel, blood orange juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and let sit.
6. Heat cast iron pan on medium-high, add a drizzle of olive oil. Add salmon to pan once hot, laying salmon down away from yourself to avoid splashing the oil. Sear salmon skin side down for 2-3 minutes then flip and cook 3-4 minutes on other side until internal temp of 145 degrees F.
7. Let salmon rest while plating the fennel salad and sautéed mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.
8. Place salmon on top of salad and finish with fennel fronds and extra virgin olive oil.
Top Canadian Ocean Wise Seafood
Many of Canada’s fisheries adhere to Ocean Wise standards and some of our country’s native fish rank highly on the organization’s list of sustainable species. Seek out these Canadian varieties to feed your body and protect the ocean:
This easy-to-grill pink-fleshed fish is caught sustainably off the coast of Nunavut and also farmed worldwide. Salmon Chum and pink salmon are caught wild in the Pacific and sockeye salmon is very carefully managed by fisheries.
Versatile and mild in flavour, Pacific cod can be caught sustainably through a variety of methods.
Caught in the Great Lakes, this lean freshwater fish has a mild and sweet flavour.
There are catch limits for Pacific halibut in the U.S. and Canada, but when available, this firm white fish is incredibly popular.
Also known as steelhead trout, this freshwater fish is a great alternative to salmon.
These delicate prawns from B.C. are a favourite of restaurant chefs and are only available for a short window in the spring.