Seafood, once one of the earth’s most abundant and healthiest foods, is now one of its most endangered and concerning. Both wild and farmed seafood species have been found to have high levels of mercury and other toxic substances. Industrial fishing operations have emptied the oceans and caused untold damage to breeding habitats:
- More than 75% of the world’s fisheries today are either fully fished or overfished.
- Over 90% of large predatory fish populations are already gone. Without predators, food chains and the ocean ecosystem — which we rely on to help mitigate climate change — have become disrupted.
- For every ton of seafood caught, hundreds and even thousands of pounds of unwanted dead fish are thrown back in the ocean as “bycatch,” according to Seafood Watch. (Shrimp trawls are particularly problematic, tossing back 6 pounds of dead fish for every pound of shrimp.)
Meanwhile, the large-scale aquaculture that has sprung up to replace wild seafood comes with its own set of environmental and food-safety problems:
- Many farmed fish are carnivores and depend on being fed wild fish, putting further pressure on wild fish populations. It takes from 15 to 20 pounds of feed to create one pound of farmed bluefin tuna, for example.
- Aquaculture can contribute to ocean pollution if the fish are densely packed.
- Fish grown in captivity can transfer diseases, such as sea lice, to wild fish populations.
- Often, fish farms give routine antibiotics to their stock, contributing to antibiotic resistance.
- It can also destroy sensitive ecosystems when non-native fish escape their pens into the open ocean and breed or compete with wild fish.
What Bon Appétit is doing
Bon Appétit was the first food service company to address this crisis and has made the most comprehensive commitment to sustainable seafood of any national restaurant or food company to date.
We began a nationwide rollout of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch® program in 2002 and made adherence a non-negotiable food standard in 2004.
Seafood Watch® recommendations are science based, peer reviewed, and use ecosystem-centric criteria. Their scientists research government reports, journal articles and white papers. They also contact fishery and fish farm experts. After a thorough review, they apply their sustainability criteria (PDF) to develop an in-depth Seafood Watch Report. All reports are reviewed by a panel of additional experts from academia, government, and the seafood industry. From these reports, they create their seafood recommendations.
Our chefs strive to serve only seafood species that are rated Green and Yellow according to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch® guidelines for commercial buyers.
More than 90 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, and that’s not sustainable. Bon Appétit also wants to do for local fish what we pioneered starting in 1999 for local food. For example, for the 2012 Eat Local Challenge — the 8th one we’ve done since starting this companywide September event — we challenged our chefs to serve locally caught seafood that met our Fish to Fork guidelines. Our chefs served more than 50 species of local seafood, exposing diners to all kinds of new tastes they might have never had or forgotten about. (Read the Boston Globe story.)
As of 2015, all of the skipjack tuna we purchase — approximately 233,000 pounds, or 91.5% of all processed tuna we buy — is caught without fish aggregating devices (FADs). FADs are man-made objects made of anything from buoys and oil barrels to scrap metal and wood that are used to attract fish. The congregating fish are then captured in a large net. This imprecise fishing method destroys 400 million pounds of untargeted species annually, destabilizing fish populations and polluting our oceans. According to 2012 research by Pew Charitable Trusts, there are as many as 100,000 drifting FADs around the world. Bon Appétit works with our suppliers to ensure that every tuna shipment destined for our cafés is accompanied by a signed statement from the boat captain verifying that no fish aggregating device was used.
In recognition of a growing body of evidence showing that fish feel pain, we support research into the humane treatment of fish. We have begun actively seeking suppliers who prioritize the welfare of both farm raised and wild-caught seafood. Head to Forbes.com for further information.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch®
- Pew Oceans Commission
- Seafood Choices Alliance
- Got Mercury?
- Marine Conservation Society
- Marine Stewardship Council
- Four Fish by Paul Greenberg
- Can the Oceans Keep Up with the Hunt? (15-min Seafood Watch video)
- PBS’s Empty Oceans, Empty Nets
- PBS’s Farming The Seas