Ocean Wise Seafood is a non-profit organization based out of Vancouver that collaborates closely with retailers, suppliers, and consumers to drive positive change in the seafood industry. The organization ensures that the seafood on its restaurant menus and retailer shelves and coolers are sourced in a manner that minimizes harm to marine ecosystems and maintains the delicate balance of aquatic life. This commitment not only safeguards the future of our oceans but also provides a reliable means for consumers to make environmentally conscious dining and purchasing decisions. We asked Mike McDermid, the Director of Fisheries and Seafood, a few questions to discover more about Ocean Wise’s impact.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
The Ocean Wise Seafood Program works with restaurants, retailers, and suppliers across the country – helping them offer more sustainable seafood products. Our goal is to grow the market for sustainable seafood here in Canada, as well as make it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices. Ocean Wise Seafood Partners are able to proudly display the Ocean Wise Recommended logo on their products, communicating to consumers that they are an ocean-friendly option. When the demand for sustainable seafood is there, we start to see meaningful change in the water, contributing to a healthy and thriving ocean.
What problem does it aim to solve?
Overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices are two great threats currently facing our ocean. Ocean Wise aims to incentivize change by raising awareness of the issues with consumers and businesses, helping them identify and have access to more sustainable sources of seafood, and ultimately encouraging more sustainable harvest methods that take an ecosystem-based approach to managing impacts and ensuring the long-term health of the ocean.
When did you start/join it?
The Ocean Wise Seafood Initiative was launched in 2005, and I was fortunate enough to be able to get involved at the start. After leaving the program in 2013 to start my own sustainable seafood market and restaurant, I was doubly fortunate to be able to rejoin Ocean Wise in 2022.
What made you want to get involved?
For me, it was the combination of two of my greatest passions – ocean conservation and food! Ocean Wise allowed me the opportunity to combine my passion with the ability to make real and lasting change. I love the challenge of creating a direct-action program that works at so many levels, making it easy for people to have a positive impact on their everyday lives.
What was the situation like when you started?
Back in the beginning of the 2000s, there was little awareness of the issues of overfishing and seafood production. For the most part, it was out of sight out of mind. This also meant there were few sustainable alternatives for businesses and consumers, which made it very difficult for those who were concerned about making responsible choices. This was the initial challenge that Ocean Wise set out to address.
How has it changed since?
Over the years, with the help of our partners, we have been able to identify more sustainable alternatives and celebrate some real success stories. For example, BC spot prawns and BC sablefish – both great sustainable options – were largely unknown in the Canadian market. Working with local fishers and chefs, we were able to change this in a relatively short period of time. Today, BC spot prawns are celebrated as a West Coast delicacy, helping to displace unsustainable farmed tiger prawns and sablefish (or Black Cod), and have the same characteristics that make Chilean Seabass so desirable, and it has helped to displace this poor option. Ocean Wise has also done amazing work in not only educating people and raising awareness of the issues around seafood production and how to make better choices but has transformed the market across Canada with over 750 business partners and over 2000 active locations identifying and selling Ocean Wise Recommended seafood options – making it easier than ever to make responsible seafood choices.
What more needs to be done?
Maintaining the current state so we don’t deplete species or systems is good, but improving the current state is even better. It is important to remember that sustainability is not an endpoint, it is continuous improvement. With new information comes new opportunities to learn, correct and improve operations to restore natural systems and rebuild fish stocks. Regulation, enforcement, and management play a key role in this and moving to more progressive co-management structures with key stakeholders taking an ecosystem-based approach and working towards a rebuilding model will be key moving forward. This will be increasingly challenged as climate change impacts systems and species, making supporting more sustainable, climate-resilient seafood important.
Another key aspect that we are working on is improving access to resources and support for small-scale fishing communities, which tend to operate more at the level of the local ecosystem, at a more sustainable level. Currently, these communities and fisheries are being left out of the sustainable seafood movement and much of our work is focused on removing the barriers to entry for them. This has the added benefit of improving local food security and socio-economic benefits for small, fishery-reliant communities.
How can our readers help?
By choosing Ocean Wise Recommended seafood wherever and whenever you buy your seafood. And supporting our Ocean Wise partner businesses – you can view our partner map on ocean.org to find sustainable seafood options in your neighbourhood! If your favourite restaurant or market/grocery store isn’t already a partner, ask them to become one. Tell them that sustainable seafood is important to you!
Where can we follow you?
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