Claiming Seafood is ‘Sustainable’ Risks Limiting Improvements

Over the past decade, the sustainability of seafood production has improved and is cause for ocean optimism. In an attempt for recognition of ongoing efforts, many producers and food retailers now claim products are ‘sustainable’. What exactly does this mean and could we limit further improvement using this claim? Here, we discuss the sustainable/sustainability dichotomy, and the problem of communicating continual improvement in terms of grand and absolute claims – that is ‘We sell 100% sustainable product.’ We believe a statement like this risks short selling the challenges at hand and removes necessary and ongoing incentives for learning, improving and innovating. We argue the best path for producers and retailers is to demonstrate and communicate the concrete actions and achievements being made towards a more resilient and healthy food system today and for the future. This requires moving away from the current practice of calling products sustainable, and to instead work towards continually improving the sustainability of the products. Focusing on measuring the impact of our actions generates a wealth of substance and establishes a direction of travel towards seafood of greater sustainability and we believe this will help educate, inform and inspire consumers to make good choices for their own and future generations benefit. In this study, ‘seafood’ will refer to both farmed and wild seafood products, and ‘sustainability’ refers to the behavior that drives economic, environmental and ethical progress towards ensuring seafood availability ‘meet(s) the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

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