Setting waters aside
One logical solution is to set aside marine areas for conservation, and there are some such areas. But so far, only 1.2 per cent of the world’s oceans have been designated marine protected areas (MPAs) as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): ‘A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values’. Even within this definition, it’s not always clear whether a reserve can really be considered an MPA. The IUCN strives to create strong guidelines, but the truth is that some reserves called MPAs include areas exploited for tourism or for harvesting fossil fuels or wind energy, for example. In any case, of those currently recognized as MPAs, less than 1 per cent have been designated ‘no-take’ (fishing-forbidden) zones protecting young fish so that they can grow to maturity.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way of knowing whether a particular seafood item comes from an unsustainable source – though that is the case for the majority of what is available for us to buy. But there is a growing movement for identifying sustainability. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a non-profit organization that encourages seafood harvested within sustainable limits using sustainable methods, and that minimizes the impact on marine ecosystems. Consumers who buy seafood with the MSC logo – including both fresh products and processed foods such as tinned tuna – can be assured that they are supporting sustainable fishing, voting with their dollars while enjoying guilt-free meals.