As of this month, McGill’s food service provider, Chartwells will offer a fully-sustainable seafood menu through its partnership with SeaChoice, a Canadian organization that helps people select ocean-friendly seafood.
Tazim Mohamed, general manager of Chartwells for McGill, said the University and its students are paying more attention to the sustainability of the food they eat.
“I think it’s becoming a big issue for everyone, not just for Chartwells,” said Mohamed.
Over-fishing, pollution, and global warming have depleted most fish and invertebrate stocks, which can’t meet market demand.
Mohamed noted that sustainable seafood would not be more expensive.
Before classifying seafood as sustainable, Mohamed explained that the criteria considered the fishing method and its effects on habitat degredation, whether stocks in a given area are depleted or threatened, and whether the species contained contaminants.
“If the product doesn’t meet these criteria, we try to avoid serving it,” Mohamed said. “It would be vain to say that we’re pioneers. We’re just trying to be a good corporate citizen and responsible in the industry.”
Canada’s lax seafood labelling regulations, however, make it difficult to determine where fish came from or how it was caught, explained Shauna MacKinnon, a biologist with the Living Oceans Society, which promotes environmental stewardship in aquatic environments.
“Lack of clear labelling is definitely a problem in Canada,” said MacKinnon. “Europe and the United States have much more stringent laws than we do.”
Although large, predatory fish such as tuna can accumulate mercury and PCBs in their flesh, and farmed fish can contain antibiotics and other chemical products, this is not necessarily noted on packaged fish.
Further, gill-netting hikes the rate of discarded bycatch – non-target species totalling millions of metric tonnes a year – and bottom-trawling employs weighted nets that scrape the seabed leaving a scarred and barren landscape in their wake.
Seafood stocks are unlikely to recover without intervention. MacKinnon suggested that concerned consumers ask before buying or contact the Minister of Agriculture to demand better labelling for seafood that will allow consumers to make informed decisions.