What Does Sustainable Fishing Look Like in the 21st Century?

Humans are coming to understand that no resource on Earth is infinite. Whether water, natural gas, or seafood, the world must pivot into more sustainable sourcing methods to ensure these resources last for generations to come. Recently, unsustainable fishing practices have entered the public conversation, following the release of the controversial Seaspiracy documentary and reports of the mass extinction of marine life. The exploitation of our oceans has led to a loss of marine biodiversity and the unbalancing of marine ecosystems. In an increasingly exploitive marketplace, is there such a thing as sustainable fishing?

Surprisingly, there are ways for fishers to catch and sell wild seafood sustainably. Halibut is a great example of a fish that has been sustainably sourced for years. This is a cold-water flat fish. It has firm white flesh and a mild flavor, making halibut a great choice for people who are not accustomed to eating seafood. Halibut is a great option for people who want to introduce more sustainable foods into their diet.

While certain Atlantic halibut stocks are low, strong management has enabled these populations to rebound to high levels. Overfishing in the 1990’s contributed to a steady population decline, but now, 30 years later, halibut stocks are typically healthy. Population stewardship is an essential aspect of sustainable fishing, and many halibut fishers appear to have a good understanding of the practice.

Additionally, halibut is typically caught using sustainable fishing methods. In most cases, this involves longlines, hooks and lines, bottom trawling, and gillnets. These methods aim to reduce bycatch, an unintended consequence of less thoughtful fishing practices. Bycatch can kill endangered animals and disrupt the ocean ecosystem, and reducing it is essential to sustainable fishing. These halibut sourcing methods are designed to reduce unintended kills while catching a sustainable number of halibut.

Halibut are widely available in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but wild Pacific halibut was among the first to receive a Marine Stewardship Council sustainability certification. Atlantic halibut stock has dipped in recent years, but the Pacific population is thriving. This wild halibut is managed by a long-running international treaty between the United States and Canada. The treaty set up the International Pacific Halibut Commission in 1923, so the stock and fishing processes have worked toward sustainability for nearly 100 years.

While Pacific halibut is the most sustainable most Americans can buy, most fisheries in Russia, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Greenland, and Germany are also certified as sustainable. Many of these fisheries catch wild halibut rather than farming the fish – a distinction important to many seafood lovers. Wild fish is often a healthier option for both humans and the environment. These fish have a lower chance of contracting harmful bacteria or parasites than farmed halibut. While there are few nutritional differences between wild and farmed halibut, the former is a healthier choice for the Earth. Plus, it just tastes better.