Shrinking Seafood : What You Should Know About Your Fish


The oceans supply us with an abundance of food. As a food loving nation surrounded by seas, seafood is a big part of our local diet. However, we should not take our seafood for granted.

While many of us have heard of the problems of over fishing and a dwindling supply of seafood, we often tend to think that these are problems of those subsistent on cold water fish trawled from the deep oceans of the Pacific and Atlantic. Endangered seafood may gain prominence in more exotic species such as Cod or Yellow Fin Tuna, and few of us could imagine the humble ‘Ikan Kembung’ ever making it on the list. However, this is only testament to our ignorance on the subject.

While international bodies such as the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) and the Pew Oceans Commission have been monitoring the sustainability of seafood for several decades, it is only recently that a targeted campaign on sustainable seafood has reached our shores. The S.O.S. (Save our Seafood) Campaign, organized by WWF (World Wildlife Federation) Malaysia aims not only to highlight the problem of overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices, but also helps consumers make the right choices by publishing a species list outlining what local seafoods are okay to eat and what are to be avoided.

According to the campaign website, over fishing and unsustainable fishing practices has had a negative effect on the viability of our local seafood supply. Between 1970 and 1997, the biomass of fish caught in our waters have decreased as much as 90%. Anecdotal evidence of this abound as well. Talk to any older person and it is likely that they will corroborate with stories of bigger and cheaper fish in the previous decades.

Additionally, the campaign website also lists some interesting facts about seafood consumption in Malaysia. According to studies conducted in the last decade, Malaysians rely on seafood as our main source of animal protein. We are also the highest per capita consumers of seafood in the Southeast Asian region, with the average protein intake from seafood among Malaysians increasing from 49% to 62% between 1960 and 1990. Given our love of seafood, it is up to each and everyone of us to ensure the viability of fisheries for our future generations.

As much as protecting the viability of our seafood supply is a complex issue requiring higher level interventions from national and regulatory bodies, we as consumers have the responsibility of making better choices when it comes to eating seafood. While we do not yet have a regulatory body in Malaysia established to certify sustainable seafood, the S.O.S. Campaign’s list of recommended seafoods are a good starting place. Additionally, it is vital that we educate ourselves enough as consumers to be able to identify what we are served in restaurants.

The ocean’s that surround us are indeed national treasures. Protection of our seas should be the concern of each and everyone of us. The health of eco-systems are intricately linked to the health of people as both depend on one another. For more information as to what you can do to help protect our seafood or request a sustainable seafood guide, please refer to WWF’s S.O.S. campaign website.

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