Will salmon and tuna sandwiches be banned from McGill cafeterias and vendors indefinitely?
This is a question students have been asking themselves since the SSMU motion regarding seafood on campus was brought to General Assembly on October 21.
Before the motion could be discussed, however, the GA lost quorum. Voting will now take place in SSMU Council on November 12. If the motion passes, it will call upon SSMU to “put their best effort into working with campus groups to pressure McGill administration to replace all of the ‘Red List’ fish species from the menus of all cafeterias and food vendors on the McGill Campus, as well as in McGill Residences.”
Compiled by SeaChoice, a seafood markets program that supports sustainable fisheries in Canada and abroad, the Red List details which aquatic species are unsustainably fished and whose consumption should therefore be avoided. Specific fish on the Red List include, but are not limited to: haddock, lobster, scallops, albacore tuna, bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, Atlantic salmon, orange roughy, rockfish, Chilean sea bass, clams (arctic surf and quahog), Atlantic cod, king crab, sole, Greenland halibut, shark, tropical shrimp, swordfish, and tilapia.
According to Sariné Willis-O’Connor, organization coordinator and co-founder of Greenpeace McGill, unsustainable fishing has consequences that are often overlooked.
“A lot of people don’t know about overfishing in general, and also how important fish are to the ecosystem and how it affects us. There are better ways to catch fish,” Willis-O’Connor said. “Most of the species listed on the Red List are either endangered, overfished, rapidly depleting, or are fished using unsustainable methods [like] bottom trawling and ghost fishing.
“Bottom trawling essentially scrapes across the ocean floor, causing permanent damage to the seabed and catching many other species that the fishers were not targeting. These untargeted fish become by-catch and are thrown back into the ocean, dead.”
Willis-O’Connor explained that ghost fishing occurs when fishermen lose or abandon their gill nets, entangling netting and other passive traps in the ocean. These left-behind nets and traps continue to swallow up fish and other sea creatures.
Willis-O’Connor argued that McGill can make a difference if SSMU passes this motion.
“We are a very large community at McGill. Once we evict all the seafood products that are on the Red List from our community, our total consumption of these unsustainable products will dramatically decrease – we will have a huge influence. We will know exactly where our fish is coming from, and whether they are sustainable,” she said.
When asked whether this would have a large financial impact on SSMU and McGill students, Jose Diaz, SSMU VP Finance and Operations, answered no, saying they would definitely be able to work out the details with the various vendors like Cultures and Café Suprême. Diaz is confident that if the motion passes, SSMU will be very efficient and successful in ousting unsustainable fish from campus.
“If it passes, we will definitely be very proactive – you can see that happening with our water bottles. I can see this as being just like that,” Diaz said. “I cannot foresee whether there would be any opposition or not from our tenants. For Café Suprême, we usually review their menu prior to each school year. And with Cultures, I don’t think there’ll be any problems.”
As to whether or not salmon and tuna sandwiches will be removed from all McGill menus, Willis-O’Connor’s short answer was “No,” pointing out that there are still some species of salmon and tuna that are not on the list.
“We will definitely be able to find sustainable alternatives and replacements for the products that are on the Red List,” she said.