Fish and seafood for Christmas? How to choose the healthiest and most sustainable according to its label

The video that the skipper of the Serlema ​​boat recently uploaded to Twitter about the magnificent sculpture Waiting Iría Rodríguez (in Punta da Insua, Galician municipality of Laxe, Costa da Morte) immediately took me to travel back in time to the memories of the nights of anguish due to the return of the family when the storm hit at sea. That gaze at the western horizon thrills, waiting for those who have not returned due to the wreck of their fishing boats.

Food that comes from the oceans plays a crucial role in achieving the goal of feeding the world’s population in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN. Specifically the SDGs with the number 2 (zero hunger), 12 (responsible production and consumption), 13 (action for climate) and 14 (underwater life).

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO, for its acronym in English) has published in its latest report an estimate of world consumption of fish and shellfish: 20.5 kg per capita, which in practice represents the twice the consumption than 50 years ago.

Figure 1 shows the per capita consumption in Latin America: although Spain and Portugal lead consumption, it should be noted that in South America consumption has increased by approximately 90% in the last 50 years.

Figure 1. Annual per capita consumption of fish and shellfish in Ibero-American countries.
Author provided

What do fish labels tell us?

A good diet is essential for our health and that of the planet. To guarantee this, the products that are marketed must have the precise information that allows consumers to make the appropriate decision.

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Figure 2. Content of the label that fish products must have when they are marketed so that consumers have complete information about what they buy.
Gumersindo Feijoo Costta, Author provided

The most relevant aspects to be noted on the labels of fishery products are detailed below:

Capture area. FAO establishes a series of zones in order to define the origin of fish catches in the oceans. An important part of the Spanish fleet operates in zone 27 (Atlantic, northeast) and 37 (Mediterranean and Black Sea). Each zone is subdivided into a series of subzones and these in turn into divisions (figure 3).

First consignor. It corresponds to the fish market, or first sale center in the case of bivalve molluscs, where the first fish auction takes place.

Denomination. The scientific name, trade name and acronym established by FAO for the different species are included. The example of a label shown in figure 2 corresponds to the Raja montagui, that is, the painted line, whose acronym for FAO is RJM. It is common that the local name is also detailed, in this case, its name in Galician: pints raia.

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Figure 3. Specification of some subareas and divisions of zones 27 (Atlantic, Northeast) and 37 (Mediterranean and Black Sea).
Author provided

Quantity, method of production and presentation. The quantity specifies the weight of the lot to be auctioned (to which a code will be assigned for traceability). The production method refers to its origin from extractive fishing (captured) or aquaculture (farmed). The presentation specifies the way it is marketed or also if it has undergone any previous treatment (for example, thawing).

Type of fishing gear. It corresponds to the means used by the producer to obtain fishery products with a view to their introduction on the market. In the case of extractive fishing, it will be the vessel (name and registration) and in the case of aquaculture, the facility itself (number of the Register of Livestock Farms and owner). In the case of fishing modalities without a boat or without an aquaculture facility, it will be the natural or legal person. This aspect is very important, since, together with the fishing ground, the fishing gear has a notable influence on the carbon footprint and on other environmental aspects, such as respect for biodiversity by avoiding discards. In the case of the painted stingray (figure 2), the art indicated on the label is “gillnets”.

Quality seals and eco-labels

In order to promote sustainable fishing, additional quality seals or eco-labels may be included in addition. Three logos are detailed on the label in figure 2:

  1. PescadeRías quality guarantee seal. The brand PescadeRías, where is it from? It is a hallmark for the promotion and defense of fish and shellfish from the Galician artisanal fleet. The EU regards this as good practice.

  2. Seal of the Ribeira fish market. It highlights the treatment and traceability of the fish auctioned by the first consignor.

  3. Green fishing ecolabel. It guarantees that it has a low carbon footprint (kg of CO₂ equivalent / kg of product) and a high rate of energy return (TRE, quotient between the protein energy it provides and the energy necessary for its capture and discharge in port).

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Figure 4. Carbon footprint and energy return rate of various fish and shellfish compared to other traditional foods such as meat, dairy, and fruits.
Author provided

Fishermen and consumers must establish a reciprocal relationship: fishermen must offer products that are increasingly environmentally friendly when caught and, for their part, consumers must be proactive in choosing those fisheries with less impact environmental. Caring for the sustainability of the oceans also means valuing the social vector of fishing. Let’s help fishermen who love and care for the sea.

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