Many seafood lovers are turning to the use of seafood guides as they endeavour to be more sustainable in their seafood choices. The traffic light system of Green/Yellow/Red is often used to guide us on what to eat, but are we using it correctly?

Emily Botsford highlights where caution is needed when using WWF’s
seafood guide

Over the years, many of us have become familiar with the red/yellow/green ‘traffic light’ system used by seafood guides showing us what we should and should not eat. Green, of course, denotes you are good to go and identifies those products you ought to choose whenever opting for seafood. A product may be considered green for a number of reasons, including:

  • It may come from a well-managed farm or fishery where fishing methods have low levels of bycatch and environmental damage
  • Stocks are healthy and can withstand fishing pressure due to factors including low maturation age, high fecundity and high growth rates

Eating only from this list thus ensures you are choosing responsibly.

The yellow list should be considered if you simply must have fish and the green options are not available. Referring back to the traffic light analogy however, many drivers’ attitude to the yellow light is to speed up and ‘beat’ the light before it turns red. Similarly, in the seafood world, yellow can be interpreted as identifying seafood that is okay to eat – so full steam ahead!

In fact, these species are in the yellow section because there are conservation concerns with the current practices or populations in these fisheries. It could be that there is simply not enough information about the seafood species, or perhaps that it is near-threatened, but not near enough extinction to be at risk in the short-term. But importantly, alarm bells are sounding and if business continues as usual it’s likely that over time, there will be a crash and these species will be downgraded to the red list.

Now we come to the red list itself. This embodies all species that are at risk of extinction, fisheries that are at risk of collapse and where fishery practices are significantly harming the environment. This is essentially the opposite of the green list in that the species identified are often slow-growing, have very few young per year and have a high age of maturity. Basically, these species can’t reproduce sufficiently for a commercially viable population under the current levels of fishing pressure – populations therefore decline. Fishing and/or farming practices may be poorly-managed and can have detrimental impacts on the environment. In the case of wild capture, bottom trawling, for example, drags the net along the sea floor, damaging coral and other benthic flora and unintentionally capturing many non-target species such as turtles, sharks and dolphins, often killing them in the process. In the case of aquaculture, large quantities of untraceable fish feed (using small or juvenile fish) may be used along with copious amounts of chemicals and antibiotics. In these situations, the red list is just as much about food safety as it is about environmental protection.

So remember to put your brakes on in time and don’t rush the yellow light. Only eat seafood when it really is good to go.

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