B.C. Rallies Behind National Sustainable Seafood Day

National Sustainable Seafood Day | BCBusiness
On March 4, Ocean Wise, chef partners and other NGOs gathered in Ottawa to renew calls for a National Sustainable Seafood Day.

Local ‘seafoodies’ want an officially recognized day to draw attention to the effects of overfishing, pollution and the changing climate on Canada’s oceans

A group of chefs and NGOs want to get Canadians talking about sustainable seafood this month. Led by locals including Ned Bell, executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, and the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, the group hopes to raise awareness and educate consumers about available seafood options that won’t harm our country’s fisheries and marine life.

“Focusing on all of the negative overfishing messages is really important in understanding why, but you need to have a solution. We think that all of these NGOs coming together to celebrate sustainable seafood from coast to coast is such a positive message for Canada,” says Ann-Marie Copping, the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise manager.

The idea for National Sustainable Seafood Day was discussed by Bell and colleagues from Ocean Wise and Sea Choice at the Canadian Chefs Congress a couple of years ago. Bell, a self-described passionate supporter of the sustainability of Canada’s lakes, oceans and rivers, wants people to ask what sustainable seafood means to them and inform consumers about where to access it.  

“If someone can’t give you the answer of where it’s from or how it was caught or who caught it, you know it’s probably not the seafood that you want to feed your family and friends,” says Bell, adding that Canadians should be particularly concerned with overfishing, as Canada is bordered by three oceans.

The first National Sustainable Seafood Day took place last year on March 18 and was marked by an event at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, the first luxury hotel in the country to be 100 per cent Ocean Wise. The event featured sustainable seafood and a keynote speech from renowned sustainability advocate David Suzuki.

The call to make National Sustainable Seafood Day formally acknowledged is now driven by a group of five chefs and NGOs, including Ocean Wise, Sea Choice, the David Suzuki Foundation and most recently by WWF Canada and Green Peace.

As the birthplace of the Ocean Wise program, Vancouver has garnered a reputation for being a sustainable, seafood-friendly city, says the Aquarium’s Copping. Ocean Wise is now in its ninth year and works directly with restaurants and suppliers to recommend sustainable seafood options. Similarly, Vancouver-headquartered Sea Choice created a labelling system in 2006 to educate consumers about good and bad options when purchasing seafood in grocery stores.

In B.C. there are currently 217 restaurants with 374 locations across the province that offer Ocean Wise-recommended products. Approximately 50 of those restaurants are 100 per cent Ocean Wise partners, the newest being RawBar at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, which is Vancouver’s first 100 per cent Ocean Wise sushi bar.

Becoming 100 per cent Ocean Wise isn’t simple, because chefs may be afraid to take popular non-Ocean Wise options off the menu, says Copping. Darren Brown, RawBar’s executive chef, says it took some playing around to find Ocean Wise alternatives to popular items, like farmed salmon. He got creative and found an alternative with Ocean Wise-recommended Lois Lake steelhead, done as a sashimi.

“We are amazed that there was no push back [for removing salmon from the menu],” says Brown. “Right away it illustrated to us what a receptive audience we have in Vancouver. It was really heartening to see.”

While Vancouver has welcomed sustainable seafood initiatives, there is still work to be done across the country, says Bell. “We do such a great job of celebrating sustainable seafood in specific regions across the county, certainly here on the West Coast, but we don’t do a good job of celebrating sustainable seafood on a national level,” he says.  

Bell and the group of NGOs hosted a parliamentary reception in Ottawa on March 4 to gain support for the official recognition of March 18 as National Sustainable Seafood Day. March 18 is also the date of Australia’s National Sustainable Seafood Day, which is the only other country in the world to celebrate it. The press conference and following reception was a success, with 160 politicians attending the event. The group is currently working with local MP Fin Donnelly on a petition to have March 18 formally recognized.

“You can come up with a national cupcake day so you can come up with a national seafood day if you want. But because this day means so much, it’s really important that the government at some point declare it official,” says Bell, who will embark on a 10-week bike ride across Canada this summer to raise awareness around sustainable seafood.