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Julie Packard

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Solving Seafood -- Sustainably

Posted: 02/08/10 06:17 PM ET

I just returned from the Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit in Paris, a gathering of over 600 business and NGO leaders concerned about the future of seafood.

The group was diverse -- marine biologists, ecologists, conservation advocates, and business leaders -- who make their living catching, producing, buying, and selling seafood.

I came away deeply impressed with the progress this far-ranging group is making, and the momentum that's building for a future with healthy oceans and abundant seafood. At every turn, I witnessed people working to forge solutions to some very complex challenges. There was conflict and disagreement in many areas. But on one thing everyone agreed: our oceans are changing. Wild seafood catch is declining and ecosystems are under siege from overfishing, pollution and global climate change. As we look to the future of seafood, business as usual is not the answer.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program is one part of the solution. We've backed our work with a decade of solid science, distributed 32 million consumer pocket guides and a popular iPhone app, and partnered with major seafood buyers -- from the two largest food service companies in North America, to major retailers like Target. Together with our colleagues, we're helping more and more businesses make and implement real commitments to sustainability.

Making commitments becomes more complex as we learn about the impacts of seafood harvest and production in a changing ocean. What is "sustainable?" Does it simply mean managing a fishery so we can keep on catching fish? Or does it address our carbon footprint, overall ecosystem health, or impacts on workers and communities in the developing countries where an increasing amount of fishing and aquaculture is based?

The need to create a more sustainable global aquaculture enterprise is urgent. Nearly half of all seafood today comes from farmed sources, but it's not without negative impacts. Aquaculture can make a huge contribution to global food security and the economies of developing nations - if it's done right.

On land, the Green Revolution provided incredible benefits to humanity, but at some serious costs. We have the opportunity -- and the imperative -- to guide the coming "Blue Revolution" so we don't repeat past mistakes.

Another major point of consensus among business and environmental leaders at the Summit was the urgent need to reform government policies that regulate fisheries. We need better rules to protect fish, ecosystems and the jobs of people who make their livelihoods from the sea. We also need to create more marine protected areas where ocean ecosystems can thrive with minimal human impact.

Overall, I was impressed by the level of sophistication of the conversation about the future of seafood. I also was reminded that in the end it's all about individual action and getting people to care. As executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I used to think that the most challenging aspect of running an aquarium was what occurs on the wet side of the glass: keeping the animals, creating a kelp forest, bringing tunas into an exhibit environment.

I've come to realize that the most challenging species to manage is not the fish, it's us -- human beings. How do we get people to care about the ocean, and motivate them to do something about its future?

Our oceans are in crisis, and it's vital that we turn the tide -- for the sake of marine life, certainly, but because healthy oceans are essential to the future of all life on Earth, including ours.

Few people have the future of the oceans at the top of their minds. That's why it's so important to enlist the help of people of all backgrounds: consumers and businesspeople, policy-makers and scientists, activists and artists.

Some of this will be accomplished by the people I met in Paris. But the responsibility also lies with each of us. Author Michael Pollan made the case when he was on the Oprah show recently: "We all can vote with our forks; we get three votes a day."

By choosing sustainable seafood, and sustainable and organic food from land, we'll help create a market for food that's healthy for both the environment and us.

Those individual decisions, small and simple though they are, can be our gift to the next generation -- those thousands of kids that I see every year at the aquarium, our own kids and grandkids, and the future communities around the world who struggle to build a future for their kids. We have a real chance, right now, to create a future of survival and abundance for all life.

Why would we pass that up?

 

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