How Ocean Wise has transformed the way we purchase seafood

July 25, 2016

When the Vancouver Aquarium decided it was time to educate people about sustainable seafood, it created Ocean Wise. Aquarium directors and scientists created the conservation program in 2005,  changing the way restaurants, chefs, markets and suppliers look at seafood, and influencing consumer demands.

The program ensures consumers have the most current scientific information regarding sustainable seafood. “The general public wants to do the right thing and make the right choices,” says Theodora “Teddie” Geach, a Seafood Specialist with Ocean Wise. “Ocean Wise makes it easy for them to do so.”

Geach compares it to recycling. “If I have to go kilometers outside of town to get rid of my cans and bottles, I’m not going to do that. But if there is a blue bin outside my front door, it’s a no brainer. It’s super easy. And this is exactly what we are trying to do with Ocean Wise – make it simple for people to pick out what those best options are. Then it’s really up to them if they want to make that choice.”

Sustainability in our oceans is fundamental to our future; scientists have estimated that we are fishing the last 10 percent of fish in the oceans. A recent scientific study predicted a world-wide fisheries collapse by 2048 – unless we can turn back from the brink.

Part of the solution is choosing sustainable seafood. This is defined 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.

To be labeled “Ocean Wise,” a species must be:

  1. Abundant and resilient to fishing pressures
  2. Well managed with a comprehensive management plan based on current research
  3. Harvested in a method that ensures limited bycatch on non-target and endangered species
  4. Harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats and negative interactions with other species.

Today, Ocean Wise works with over 600 partners across Canada (from 16 in 2005), from restaurants and retailers to suppliers and processors to culinary schools, universities and sports and entertainment centres.

Restaurants and suppliers on board

Vancouver chefs were early supporters of the program. Robert Clark, now at The Fish Counter on Main Street, has been on board since the beginning.

“Chefs have become celebrities,” notes Geach. “We see them on TV doing chef challenges, for example. They are really the ones that a lot of consumers are looking toward to understand our food better and what foods we should and should not be eating. It has been a huge benefit for us to work with these ambassador chefs.”

Seafood suppliers are also seeing the benefit. Albion Fisheries, for instance, sells thousands of different fish and seafoods across B.C. and Alberta. Although only about 25 per cent are Ocean Wise, Geach says that accounts for over 50 per cent of their sales.

“That’s huge,” Geach says. “This shows there is a big demand for Ocean Wise and sustainable options.”

The Vancouver Aquarium’s work is hardly finished, however. Its next goal: to educate people about the problem of ocean plastics. The innovators at the Aquarium are still figuring out what to do about it, but no doubt they will take the lead on this initiative as well.

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