Wild-caught seafood is harvested from our lakes, rivers or oceans. The sustainability and environmental impact of commercial fishing operations depends on many factors including how the fish was caught, the health of the population being fished, and how effectively the fishery is being managed. Among the factors considered by scientists when evaluating the sustainability and environmental responsibility of a particular fishery:
- Stock health - Populations of fish, crabs, lobsters and other marine animals that inhabit a specific geographic area are called stocks. Stocks that are abundant and whose populations are not decreasing because of overfishing are most likely to be healthy and sustainable into the future.
- Fishery management - Many times, good stock health is the result of effective fishery management practices, which include factors such as setting limits on fishing, performing thorough scientific research, and gathering detailed information on what species (and how much) are being caught.
- Fishing gear and techniques - Commercial fishing operations use many types of fishing gear and techniques to capture the seafood we eat. All fishing gear has some impact on the environment, but how much of an impact depends heavily on what type of gear is used, where the gear is used, how the gear is used, as well as the inclusion of any special modifications designed to reduce habitat impact.
- Bycatch levels - Commercial fishing often results in the accidental capture of fish and other sea creatures, known as bycatch. In some cases, this bycatch can include threatened or endangered species, such as marine mammals, sea birds, and sea turtles. This bycatch is sometimes reduced, or even eliminated, with modifications that allow these species to escape or avoid capture.