Seafood could be key to feeding growing populations, but ethical concerns muddy the water

Canadians appreciate seafood, with nearly 90 per cent enjoying it regularly. A new study sheds light on preferences and attitudes towards sustainability

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Blue foods — aquatic animals, plants and algae — hold the potential to feed a growing planet.

According to Nature, marine foods are a vital source of protein and other nutrients for over 3.2 billion people and support the livelihoods of over 800 million. Yet, as a landmark study by University of California Santa Barbara researchers suggests, more than 90 per cent of global blue food production is at risk from a changing climate.

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“We owe it to ourselves — to our society — to be eating more seafood,” chef and author Barton Seaver told Danielle Nierenberg on the Food Talk podcast. “We need to begin to see the human future as blue.”

A new study from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab (AAL) at Dalhousie University provides insight into Canada’s blue economy and the factors driving Canadian seafood choices.

As the study shows, Canadians appreciate seafood — especially its nutritional benefits (64 per cent) — with 86.7 per cent of respondents reporting that they eat it regularly. By region, British Columbians are the biggest seafood lovers, with 45.8 per cent enjoying it weekly; Quebeckers eat it the least, with 27.2 per cent partaking every week.

The study suggests that Canadians opt for the freezer aisle over the fish counter, with 49.2 per cent of Gen Z respondents buying frozen and 39.1 per cent of Gen X’ers. Canadians also prefer wild seafood over farmed, particularly in B.C. (67.9 per cent) and the Atlantic provinces (54.2 per cent).

The ethics of farming fish is at the centre of a debate in the U.K. Restaurants, including Fergus Henderson’s renowned St. John in London and Michelin-starred Grace & Savour in the West Midlands, have joined a campaign to drop farmed salmon from the menu due to sustainability and animal welfare concerns, according to The Guardian.

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Meanwhile, the potential environmental impact of thousands of salmon escaping fish farms in Iceland has spurred protests and inspired Icelandic singer Björk to release a “lost” song with Spanish pop star Rosalía.

“People at the fjord Seyðisfjörður have stood up and protested against fish farming starting there. We would like to donate sales of the song to help with their legal fees and, hopefully, it can be an exemplary case for others,” Björk said in a press release.

According to the AAL study, 35.6 per cent of Canadians regard farmed seafood as a sustainable choice, but perception varies with income. Respondents with household incomes exceeding $150,000 agreed the most (53.3 per cent), followed by $35,000-$74,999 (50.2 per cent) and $75,000-$149,000 (48.6 per cent).

For most Canadians, climate change and the environment are important factors when buying food (54 per cent overall; 60 per cent for those 18-29). Roughly three in four prefer Canadian seafood over imported, half consider humane treatment when buying seafood, and 40 per cent would pay more for a certified sustainable product.

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“By aligning consumer preferences with responsible harvesting practices, we can contribute to the preservation of our oceans and aquatic ecosystems,” said co-lead researcher Stefanie Colombo, associate professor at Dalhousie University and Canada Research Chair in Aquaculture Nutrition.

Sylvain Charlebois, director of the AAL and co-lead researcher, added, “Our study provides valuable insights into the complex relationships between Canadians and their seafood choices. Understanding these preferences can help drive more sustainable practices in the fisheries and aquaculture industry.”

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