Bahamas_Day45-182-Edit1By Lana Gunnlaugson, National SeaChoice Manager

It was during my first trip to the Exumas that I first heard about eating invasive species. Creating a market for invasive marine species helps to meet the growing demand for seafood, while lessening the havoc these creatures are causing in delicate ecosystems.

Lionfish are an invasive fish that threaten coral reefs and Bahamian ecosystems (not to mention South America and other regions of the world). Although beautiful to look at, the lionfish has very few predators due to its venomous spines. The lionfish is also a prolific breeder who preys on numerous other species of fish, making it quite the threat to local ecosystems. By harvesting lionfish and creating a market for them,we pretty much have a win-win situation.

But there are many other species invading ecosystems around the globe that could also provide new and interesting food supplies. Last week I read an interesting article on how one sushi chef, Bun Lai, uses his creativity to prepare mouthwatering dishes using invasive species such as Asian shore crabs, lionfish and jellyfish. Okay, so I might shy away from tunicates (also known as marine vomit), but for the most part I am an adventurous foodie!

This week, I found yet another article on the perks of an invasivore diet. It’s a rather convincing article, and there is definitely momentum building with more and more media buzzing about invasivorism. Although I might not try all of the items on the menu, I can definitely see why the invasivore diet might be the hottest new culinary trend. After all, if you can’t beat them, you might as well eat them!

By Lana Gunnlaugson, National SeaChoice Manager



Earlier this week I read Trash to treasure: Stanford researcher tells a seafood story, an inspiring feature in the Stanford News that highlights how small shifts in fishing practices can lead to big solutions for the health of our oceans. In this case, the fishing improvements created significant benefits for coastal communities. It was a win-win situation for the environment and the community.

Stanford researcher Hoyt Pekham started working with small-scale fishers in the Sea of Cortez when he realized that the endangered loggerhead turtle was being caught as bycatch. Non-selective fishing gear was resulting in the catch of roughly 1000 loggerhead turtles annually. This is a big number for an endangered species in a small region.

Catching endangered turtles isn’t just a conservation concern – each turtle caught meant wasted time, damaged fishing gear and the loss of a more valuable species that could have been caught. The incentive for fishers to reduce their turtle bycatch was high and solutions were needed.

Dr. Pekham created the SmartFish program, to work with fishers to choose more selective fishing gear types like handlines and traps. Not only did this reduce the unnecessary bycatch, but the fish caught were of higher quality. SmartFish also improved the seafood supply chain by allowing Hoyt to directly connect fishers with local high end restaurants that were willing to pay more for local, fresh, and now high quality seafood. A higher price for the fish allowed these fishers to invest in better on-board frozen storage as well as better processing plants.

With the simple shift in gear-type, bycatch was reduced and product quality was improved. Better prices also means that fishers can fish less, and reduce pressure on overfished stocks.  It is inspiring to be reminded of how one person’s influence to make even small changes in a fishery can lead to big solutions for our oceans. These are the fishing tales that need to be shared with the world to help inspire real change in support of healthier oceans.



Posted by... lana on Mar 6, 2014

A Visit to Parliament Hill

By Katherine Dolmage, SeaChoice Market Analyst

Credit: Ocean Wise

Credit: Ocean Wise

This week, I packed up my winter coat and warmest boots and boarded a flight for our Nation’s capital. Although the temperatures dropped to -20, spirits were high among my colleagues – staff from Ocean Wise, Greenpeace Canada, WWF Canada, the Marine Stewardship Council, and chefs from across Canada. After months of coordination and planning by the groups, it was finally time for our National Sustainable Seafood Day event on Parliament Hill.

In 2012, at the Chef’s Congress in Nova Scotia, the managers of SeaChoice and Ocean Wise, along with Executive Chef Ned Bell, got to talking. They all shared a great passion for sustainable seafood and a huge desire to not only teach Canadians about the issues facing our oceans, but to create a platform to celebrate the sustainable seafood options. This is where the idea for a National Sustainable Seafood Day was shaped. Together, the groups organized an event last May to introduce the idea and gain momentum. MP Fin Donnelly has tabled this motion in Parliament, and March 4 was our chance to get the message out to politicians.

My favourite part of many of the events SeaChoice is involved in is the presence of chefs (not to mention their fabulous food!). The passion for sustainable seafood shown by ambassadors like Rob Clark and Ned Bell is infectious. In Ottawa, we were also joined by Chef Walid El-Tawil of E18hteen Restaurant in Ottawa, Chef Kate Kelnavic of the Whalesbone in Ottawa, and Chef Jonathan Lapierre Réhayem of Laloux in Montreal. NGOs and scientists can preach about sustainable seafood until we’re blue in the face, but when the message comes directly from the people who feed you, it’s simple. If we want to keep eating delicious foods (the night’s menu included scallops, albacore tuna, oysters, northern shrimp, trout and yellow perch) we need to be responsible with our oceans.

Response to our event was fantastic- the room quickly filled with Members of Parliament and Senators from across Canada. It was one of the most engaging crowds I have been a part of. While some visitors had a deep understanding of sustainability issues already, for others it was brand new. But they were all keen to learn more.

They say you shouldn’t use clichés when you write, but there is one I can’t avoid. “This isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity.” Often, we concentrate so hard on the problems facing our oceans, we forget to celebrate them. Creating a National Sustainable Seafood Day in Canada gives us the opportunity to celebrate the fantastic bounty of the ocean. I have returned to Vancouver inspired by the collaboration between groups and the interest by politicians. We will continue to work towards creation of this day- and hope you will help us by signing the petition!

Posted by... lana on Feb 20, 2014

By Katherine Dolmage, SeaChoice Sustainable Seafood Analyst

Conservation Alliance

Conservation Alliance

Last week, SeaChoice staff and member groups were reunited with colleagues from the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions for our annual meeting. The Alliance is a group of conservation groups from around North America who work on sustainable seafood projects. Meeting together allows us to share success stories and difficulties, find opportunities for collaborative work, and to develop shared messaging to present a strong front on issues important to the seafood world.

Much of the focus of this year’s meetings was improvement projects – both for aquaculture and fisheries. Some Alliance members (WWF, SFP and the Wild Salmon Centre) are actively involved in improvement project on the ground and had much information to share on what they have learned, and how we can encourage supply chains in North America to support this work.

SeaChoice continues to work with our retail partners to eliminate red-listed product from stores. But we recognize that this is a lofty goal. Many global fisheries and aquaculture operations need significant improvements to meet the yellow bar set out by our assessment criteria. We feel strongly that industries working to improve their practices should be recognized and supported. Our alliance with groups involved in these projects allows us to support industries that have clear goals and associated timelines.

To see change on the water means that we are truly achieving our goals. We are excited to see continued progress being made in improvement projects and have returned from our meeting rejuvenated and excited to move our common vision forward in the coming year.

Posted by... lana on Feb 13, 2014

Oysters – Love Potion No. 9 for the Seafood Lover

By Lana Gunnlaugson, National SeaChoice Manager

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day and although I have been known to be a bit of a Valentine’s Day Grinch, it seems appropriate timing to connect this week’s blog to the one day a year dedicated to lovers. I could write about the romantic mating practices of seahorses or some other charismatic ocean creatures, but instead I am going to keep my focus on seafood! And when you connect seafood and romance, aphrodisiacs, especially oysters, likely come to mind.

Credit: Barry J Brady Photography

Credit: Barry J Brady Photography

None of this is likely news to you (in fact I think I blogged about it last year). Most of us have probably heard by now that oysters have a little reputation of getting your mojo going. After all, Giacomo Casanova, the notorious 18th century charmer from Italy, was rumoured to eat fifty oysters just for breakfast. But I want to dive deeper to try and understand some of the science behind this supposed affect that raw oysters can have on one’s libido. It’s easy to see that oysters are a sexy food with their wet and slippery texture, but is there something more to oysters than just a placebo effect?

“I placed the shell on the edge of her lips and after a good deal of laughing, she sucked in the oyster, which she held between her lips. I instantly recovered it by placing my lips on hers.” From the complete memoirs of Casanova

Back in 2005 American and Italian (of course) scientists revealed that oysters have two unique amino acids (D-aspartic and N-methyl-D-aspartate) that are linked to sparking higher levels of sex hormones. Oysters are also very high in zinc, which is especially important for  a healthy prostate and sperm count.

According to the study, spring is an ideal time to enjoy oysters (what timing!) as this is when they too are reproducing and those key amino acids are at a high. Oh and farmed oysters are also  a SeaChoice “Best Choice!“  So this Valentine’s Day, adding a few raw oysters to your menu might not be the worst idea?! And pssst! Oysters also pair lovely with champagne and it is no coincidence that bubbly is also known to be one of the top aphrodisiacs out there. Salute!

Posted by... lana on Feb 6, 2014

Genetically Modified Salmon

Guest Blog By Jenna Stoner, SeaChoice Member from the Living Oceans Society

legal-fundA precedent-setting decision was made in November 2013 when Canada’s federal Ministers of the Environment and Health approved an application by AquaBounty Canada Inc. to commercially produce and export genetically modified (GM) salmon eggs. The approval is precedent setting because GM salmon – should it actually be produced – would be the first ever genetically modified food animal. Despite the importance of this topic, there was little to no opportunity for public input and the application review process was far from transparent. The conversation is far from over, however, as two of the SeaChoice member- groups – Ecology Action Center and Living Oceans Society – are actually taking the government to court over this issue. So now is a great time to catch up on the facts and issues of GM salmon.

What Are Genetically Modified (GM) Salmon?

GM salmon were patented by Canadian scientists who took a gene that regulates growth hormones in Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter—the equivalent of a genetic ‘on-off’ switch—from an ocean pout (an eel-like fish) and introduced them into the genetic structure of an Atlantic salmon. This modification gave the Atlantic salmon a year-round appetite enabling it to reach market size twice as fast as other farmed salmon.

Who will grow GM Salmon and Where?

The application that was approved in November 2013 was submitted by AquaBounty Canada Inc., which is connected to a larger multinational company called AquaBounty. The GM salmon eggs will be grown in P.E.I., transported to Panama where they will grow to full size, and sold in U.S. markets as AquaAdvantage® Salmon (subject to approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration).

Furthermore, the approval by Canadian authorities would also allow the manufacture and grow out of the genetically modified salmon elsewhere in Canada under certain conditions and does not limit the number of eggs that can be produced at the approved AquaBounty Canada Inc facility in P.E.I.

AquaBounty’s GM salmon is the first of its kind

The GM Salmon would be the first genetically modified food animal. Canada will be the lab rat for a technology untrialed and untested at a commercial scale. Exciting? Perhaps, but currently there is a lack of independent science on these GM salmon including long term trials studying the potential health risks. Neither the U.S. or Canadian governments have done any safety testing and rely solely on studies done by the company. There are concerns that the sample sizes used to assess the AquaBounty fish are inadequate to determine human health and safety risks.

What are the potential environmental consequences?

Today, farmed fish escapes from open net-pens and hatcheries are a serious, ongoing problem that threatens wild fish. Government reviews have indicated that GM salmon may be able to survive and breed in the wild. Note that both the P.E.I and Panamanian facilities are land-based closed, containment systems, which do minimize the risk of fish escapes. The Panamanian facility, however, has already been breached once, which resulted in the release of GM fish to the wild.

Should these GM fish escape into the wild here in Canada where we have native wild salmon stocks or escape in larger numbers in their non-native region of Panama, the consequences for the aquatic environment and wild salmon stocks are unknown but could be devastating.

What is happening with the GM Salmon Trial?

Two SeaChoice member groups – Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society – will be represented by EcoJustice as they take the federal government to court over the approval of this application. The groups assert that the approval is unlawful because it failed to assess whether genetically modified salmon could become invasive, potentially putting ecosystems and species such as wild salmon at risk. The main legal arguments of the case are based on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

Take Action!

This approval sets a precedent for the future of fish and it was passed with very little public discussion. To us, that seems fishy.  Help us get the word out and let others know –far and wide – what is happening here in Canada.

  • Check out the GM Salmon Trial’s Indigego Campaign – donate what you can and share
  • Share this blog on Facebook and Twitter
  • Follow the GM Salmon Trial on Twitter - @GMSalmonTrials
  • Use #GMfishTrial when posting to Twitter
Posted by... lana on Jan 30, 2014

A Dry Upstream Battle for Salmon

By Lana Gunnlaugson, National SeaChoice Manager

Winter weather has been making the headlines a lot over the past few months in Canada. Ice storms, frigid temperatures, and blizzards are just a few of the buzz words heard across the country. But here in British Columbia, which is usually known as the “wet coast,” we are experiencing record low rainfall.  Weather this winter has not only made this a terrible ski season in the coastal mountains, but it also makes for a tough journey ahead for salmon. Basically a dry winter means less spring snow melt in the mountains and drier streams and rivers feeding back to the ocean.

Spawning Squamish SalmonEarlier this week, I read an article about similar concerns south of the border. The droughts in California are not only a serious concern for humans, but for salmon too. This year, the dry winter is threatening the already endangered coho salmon. Salmon rely on a surge of water from the river mouth as a signal to begin their upstream battle. This year, with so little rainfall, the salmon are literally blocked from swimming up the river by sandbars. And if the coho can’t swim up the river to spawn, there is a very real risk of extinction.

Californians are trying to lure the coho home by releasing 29 million gallons of very valuable (I’m talking blue gold) drinking water into the watershed. This will help, but so far the spawn counts remain exceptionally low. And a dying fish population poses a serious threat to coastal communities. Fishers and marine businesses are facing a battle as they rely on this is a key fishery. We don’t fully understand many of the ways in which climate affects salmon, but we do know that climate change could potentially have disastrous effects on global salmon populations. Times like this make it apparent that we need to take action against climate change now and support salmon recovery if we are to continue enjoying this iconic fish for years to come.

Posted by... lana on Jan 24, 2014

A Shift in Shrimp Farming

By Lana Gunnlaugson, National SeaChoice Manager

Mangroves Credit: Blueyou Consulting

Mangroves Credit: Blueyou Consulting

After years of raising awareness around why black tiger prawns are one of the least sustainable seafood choices out there, it feels somewhat strange to now be promoting one initiative that is raising this shrimp sustainably. In saying this, it always inspires me to hear of seafood solutions that are changing fishing and aquaculture practices. In some cases, these solutions are innovative and new; in this case, it is a matter of returning to the more traditional practices of a silvofishery.

Selva shrimp is produced through a program developed by Blueyou Consulting, where shrimp are farmed in their natural habitat – using an extensive shrimp system. The tiger prawns are grown naturally in a select area of managed Vietnam mangrove forests without any feed or chemical inputs. The mangroves are kept intact to help protect coastal communities and ecosystems (this is a big deal as industrial shrimp farming has destroyed mangrove forests around the world). Beyond improved environmental practices, Selva shrimp is helping to connect small stakeholder farming communities of Southeast Asia to consumers around the world. Oh and did I mention that Selva shrimp tastes amazing too?!

Selva Shrimp Credit: Blueyou Consulting

Selva Shrimp Credit: Blueyou Consulting

So, since shrimp is a favourite seafood choice for many North Americans, Selva shrimp is an exciting new product that helps to meet the demand without having a negative impact on our planet. The Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise™ program also recommends Selva shrimp and many of their partner restaurants and suppliers across Canada are already sourcing these delicious prawns. Even though shrimp are relatively small, the fishing and farming practices have had a largely negative impact in native ecosystems, which makes ocean-friendly choices like Selva shrimp such exciting news.

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