Thursday, April 21, 2005

Food For Thought - Fair Trade Fish?

There is an excellent article in the Courier April 20th about 'the price of sushi' - it is written by Rhiannon Coppin-contributing writer, and is some very fine and thorough journalism.

Here's a Condensed version

Sushi is the most obvious example of Vancouver's love for and consumption of seafood. But as a relatively affordable food it also comes with a hidden environmental cost. As the true price of sushi catches up with us in the form of collapsing stocks, struggling independent fishermen, the exploitation of the waters of the southern hemisphere, and health concerns, sushi lovers are in a position as consumers to make a difference in how we get our food. But they have little choice now when it comes to seafood. Unlike coffee, which is often labelled so that we can narrow down our purchase based on its fair trade or organic status and country of origin, the origins of our seafood, for the most part, remain a mystery.

Tojo notes the explosion of what he feels are low-quality sushi bars in Vancouver in the past eight years, and shakes his head. They can get away with cheaper lower-quality tuna, marked-down farmed salmon, and rely even-in the case of supermarkets-on mechanized sushi machines which prepare rolls that can sit around for up to three days in the deli.

"From the customer side, you must be more educated."

It is now common for fossil fuel inputs to absolutely dwarf the energy to be gained by eating the fish.

It is a basic cost-expense equation. If the amount of energy used in fishing exceeds the amount of energy contained in the fish caught, it is a wasteful endeavour. And so it is with many of our fisheries, which continue production even though stocks are for the most part in decline thanks to larger boats, more efficient technology, and diesel-lots of diesel.

The energy return on investment of fishing for wild salmon, or the amount of energy in all the landings divided by the energy-mainly fuel-used in catching the fish, is around seven per cent. Mining tuna, "the chicken of the sea," is about as efficient as raising actual chickens: around three per cent. Farmed salmon requires twice as much energy to raise as wild salmon requires to be caught.

According to the UN, exports of fish and fish products to wealthier nations from developing nations, which may not share Canadian standards of marine conservation and stewardship, is an industry close to four times as large as the coffee export business, and ties up more money in exports than cocoa, bananas, rubber, and tea combined.

But we can have our sushi and eat it too, at least that's what the UN hoped when in March its Fisheries and Agriculture Organisation created and adopted a set of voluntary guidelines for the eco-labelling of fish products. Eco-labelling of seafood has already occurred to a small extent with the "dolphin-safe" certifications, but new guidelines would have seafood products labelled with country and region of origin as well as method of harvest or catch.

It's part of what they hope will become a global marketing strategy targeted at choosy middle-class consumers, aimed at improving seafood's oft-salty image.

"Do I think we should have fair trade fishing? Sure, it's a great idea. But can you implement it? I guess it really does start with the consumer," says Greenwood, now finishing her meal.

There's a reason sushi is cheap in Vancouver, mainly that the true price we pay is hidden. Eco-labelling of seafood could become the next "fair trade coffee" issue, putting information, incentives, and choice back in the hands of consumers. In the meantime, we'll keep chowing down like there's no tomorrow.


Post a Comment

<< Home