Chinese Need to Eat Fish. But How to Eat Fish Sustainably?

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City Express Hangzhou, Hong Kong, China

If you love the taste of yellow croakers, you should think about this issue: there are too many people but too few fish in the world. Will you eat the last yellow croaker or save some for the next generation?

Fish is an excellent source of animal protein and a wide range of essential nutrients and contributed significantly to food security. Some 80% of the world's fish production is used for human consumption. However, the world has such a big appetite for fish that makes overfishing the leading cause of fish declines.

A recent report by the Food and Agriculture Orgnization (FAO) shows that about 53% of the world's marine fishery resources are fully fished, or fished to the maximum sustainable level. Another 32% is overfished, depleted, or recovering from depletion. Some fish species are on the endangered species list, like Yellow Croaker, Bluefin Tuna, Shark, Atlantic Cod. The stock population of bluefin tuna has declined by 75% during the last decade.

Sustainable fisheries is considered to be an important solution to take off pressure on stocks. In early September, this year's International Seafood Summit was held in Hong Kong, celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Aiming at bringing the seafood community together to seek solutions for a sustainable future, it welcomed more than 500 participates representing 46 countries. Back in 2002, the 1st Seafood Summit occurred as a meeting of only 20 environmental NGOs from the US. Everyone was talking about sustainable fisheries.

A conventional idea of a sustainable fishery is that it is one that is harvested at a sustainable rate, where the fish population does not decline over time because of fishing practices.

Recently, Chinese fishing boats have returned to the East China Sea as this year's fishing ban ended on September 16th. China's annual fishing ban has been in place since 1999, aiming at protecting fish during their egg-laying season in the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea, increasing fish stocks and improving the biological environment. Violators will face punishments such as fines, license revocations, confiscations and possible criminal charges, according to a statement issued by the Fisheries Bureau under the Ministry of Agriculture. The fishing ban is also applicable to foreign ships.

This temporary halt to fishing has increased the price of many species of fish in the market this summer. However, it can help some species to recover, which could generate more profits in the future. This is a way of sustainable fishery.  

How can we identify if the seafood on our plate is sustainable or not?

Let's take Hong Kong for example. The WWF Hong Kong has created a pocketsize Seafood Guide to encourage consumption of green and sustainable produced seafood. It divides seafood into three categorizes: Green-"Recommended", Yellow-"Think Twice" and Red-"Avoid".  In Hong Kong, leading clubhouses, hotels and restaurants continue to roll out Ocean-Friendly menus. There at least 28 hotels/restaurants are now sourcing sustainable seafood and offering an "Ocean-Friendly Menu" according to the WWF Seafood Guide, and 26 Restaurants that also have sought advise on seafood sustainability and/or; sourcing and promoting sustainable seafood with WWF (Shangri-la Hotels, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Ocean Park Hong Kong, etc.). Many Western countries have their own Seafood Guide very similier to this.

'It doesn't mean that we can't eat any more fish caught from the sea, but suggests that we should eat WISE. We can have a small appetite of fish today to let more fish available in the future. ' Allen To from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Hong Kong said. 

He also mentioned that 10 primary schools in Hong Kong have joined a launch program supplying meal with sustainable seafood. Hong Kong also tried to persuade the public not to process, sale and purchase shark fin. On that front, major commitments to stop serving shark fin have been made by companies like the Peninsula Hotels and Shangri-la, and, just a couple of days ago, Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragon Air made an amazing commitment to ban shark fin from its all cargo flights.

There are some independent organizations giving certification for sustainable wild-caught fisheries. The most famous one is the Marine Stewardship Council. In 2000, the Western Australian rock lobster fishery received the first MSC certification.  By 2006, the giant retail outlet, Wal-Mart pledged to sell fresh and frozen wild-caught seafood from MSC certified fisheries - and the first seafood wholesaler in Japan was certified. Last year, Dalian Zhangzidao Fishery Group entered into MSC assessment for its scallop fishery. It is the first Chinese fishery of its kind.

Some people might ask: 'why can't we farm those kind of endangered fish?'

Not all fish can be raised inland, for instance, shark and whale. Besides, it does help increasing the production of fish, but "does not solve the overfishing from the sea", pointed out by Professor Yvonne Sadovy of the University of Hong Kong.

Now China is the leading global producer and exporter in the seafood trade. In 2010, China contributed 35% of the world seafood (mainly mariculture) production and consumed 34% of global supply (mainly wild fish), according to the FAO's statistics in 2012.

But can you tell out the names of some fish that are endangered in the world? If your answer is NO, will you think about why we care so little about our surrounding environment? And for many countries and regions, they are already one step ahead. They do have a endangered species guide. seafood guides, also available as smart phone apps, and have played an incredibly important role in the development of the sustainable seafood movement.