Recently I was working on an ocean conservation project in Costa Rica, aboard the M/V Sharkwater, along with a handful of others from North America. The project had been inspired by the late Toronto filmmaker Rob Stewart, you may have heard of his film ‘Sharkwater’? It’s all about conservation and the importance of keeping our oceans healthy and well stocked.
Whilst on the project I asked the marine biologists what people in North America could do to help sea life and they all said that we could become better consumers, and part of that is to use the Seafood Watch website to find out what local restaurants serve sustainably caught seafood and then use those restaurants instead of others who serve fish at risk of extinction.
As a vegan the sustainable fish thing didn’t apply to me but I figured it was worth having a look at the website, to see what great stuff was going on within Toronto, my home and recognized as one of the most progressive cities in North America.
I was shocked to see that the SeaFood Watch website listed just 1 restaurant in Toronto, and that was a chain restaurant that had 1 or 2 sustainable meals on a menu awash with unsustainable options. Clearly not a good situation. I checked out the entries for other cities and towns, the areas that others on my conservation project lived in. Some of the places on the west coast were better but largely the website was just another thing that looked like a great idea but in reality wasn’t being used.
So I got in touch with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who organise the website, and asked what we could do about this (below is their reply). I also reached out to the other scuba divers and budding activists who’d been in Costa Rica with me and asked who’d like to join me in contacting the restaurants in their own areas. I was trying to be positive, to actually lesson the gap between what the website could be and what it actually was.
I was saddened that only 1 of those who’d been in Costa Rica said they’d help. We’d all seen the extent of the devastation that modern fishing methods inflict, surely if anybody was going to be fired up about conservation it was this gang of people. But I shouldn’t have been surprised, one of the main issues the planet faces is that a great many of the people who care just don’t care enough. They start out with great intentions but in the end they’re satisfied with a cute new Facebook profile photo and a failure to understand that they matter, that what they do matters, that they can make a difference if only they pursued inclusion with other humans instead of striving for a half hearted individuality. And then somebody like me stirs them and they do the sad western passive aggressive thing and use me as an excuse for their laziness. Like, that pushy vegan, if only he was more polite about all this perhaps I would act but he turns me right off, it’s all his fault that I'm going to sit on my ass and do nothing but make solid sounding excuses for my inaction!
Bottom line, if you care, you’ll go vegan. If you pretend to care, you’ll make excuses. And if you don't care... I don't know, I can't imagine it.
I got onto Trip Advisor and searched for the top 50 fish restaurants in Toronto, then I wrote to them all. I kept it brief but asked them to consider becoming a member of the Seafood Watch website. It would only cost a couple of hundred dollars, which isn’t much for what amounts to an official stamp of approval, and I made it easy for them to go forward by providing all the links and details.
Not a single restaurant got back to me. Maybe they just went forward and signed up to be a Seafood Watch partner. But the website says otherwise, at the moment.
The future is grim for our sealife, and for us. We’ve disrupted the food chain and now we begin to suffer. We are already seeing this in the red tides of Florida and other ocean dead zones around the world. Some of us live in areas where the oceans are managed well, and they see no reason to change. But our world is small, what we do in one area matters to the other areas, and our people are in need of solid guidance and examples.
Here’s the reply from Monterey Bay Aquarium.
“Any restaurant can become a Seafood Watch partner as long as they are willing to phase out any red rated seafood products. All of our recommendations are publicly available online or on our free app. To use our recommendations, you’ll need to know three things:
1. What species is it?
2. What country if it from?
3. How was it caught or farmed?
With those three key data elements, you can use Seafood Watch recommendations to figure out the respective rating.
Please feel free to direct any restaurants interested in partnership to www.seafoodwatch.org. They can click on the “Businesses & Organizations” tab to fill out a short inquiry form and someone from our business team will get in touch to explain the partnership, answer questions and identify next steps.
If you are interested in learning more about partnerships with Seafood Watch, we have this six minute online module: http://www.seafoodwatch.org/businesses-and-organizations/become-a-partner
Finally, Vancouver Aquarium has a similar seafood product called Ocean Wise, which relies on our recommendations. They also have a restaurant program and would likely have more Canadian restaurant partners, but keep in mind that I believe their restaurant partners are only required to highlight which seafood items on their menu are sustainable.”
'I tried to see this sustainable seafood issue from the side of the fish eaters. This website could work but it doesn't because people - the restaurants, the activists - aren't really that interested. Is it worth anything? Probably not, but hindsight might say it's a start. Although the story is different now, the scientists tell us that, the facts are beyond doubt and life as we know it is nearly beyond saving, and there's hardly time for a start, middle and end, let alone a rescue mission.
Still, if you're in the mood to do something, and if you know any restaurants that want to do the right thing, then ask them to dig deep (change isn't easy) and go vegan. If it turns out that they want to pretend to care but aren't that bothered then they won't take any notice at all. But if they want to pretend to care more than most, then also let them know that they can sign up to the Seafood Watch website. It's better than nothing I guess.