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Ethical seafood: is there such a thing?
You may have heard reports of the terrible human rights abuses that go on at sea. Men tricked onto fishing boats, drugged to keep them working 23 hours a day, subject to rape and even murder. Fish is, after all the food that’s most likely to have been produced with slave labour. You can’t even be sure New Zealand caught fish is slave-free: these same awful things have been reported in our own waters.
Estimated read time: 5 minutes
So, as an ethical consumer, can you buy seafood at all? At Just Kai we certainly think you can! Personally, I eat sardines or salmon most weeks – they are such great sources of omega 3s. But I wouldn’t eat just any seafood. Only seafood that’s been independently audited at every step of the way, or seafood sourced close to shore in countries with strong and well-enforced labour laws.
How would you know? Sadly, you can never tell from the packaging: there are dolphin-friendly labels, but no human-friendly ones. That’s where Just Kai comes in. We’ve asked dozens of companies about their supply chains and have been delighted to find lots of good options! We now have buying guides for tinned tuna and sardines, salmon and shellfish and crustaceans, and we’re working on more.
Image by Alla Hetman via Unsplash.
Tins of tuna, sardines or salmon contain wild-caught fish. To be sure they’re slave-free, you need to know that both the boats where they were caught and the factories where they were tinned were slave-free.
Tuna is the biggest concern as it’s typically caught far out to sea. Tuna vessels stay out at sea for months or even years at a time (with other boats visiting to pick up fish and drop off supplies). The people on these boats are very vulnerable: if they are being mistreated, it’ll be a long time before they can get help.
Sealord is the only company we’ve found whose tuna boats are independently audited for working conditions. In fact, our easiest recommendation for ethical fish in general, is to buy from Sealord: every product we’ve asked them about is reliably slave-free.
Sardines and salmon are less of a worry: they’re caught close to land, so labour inspectors can easily access them and check what’s going on. They’re fine if they were both caught and canned in a country with strong labour laws; they’re also fine, regardless of where they’re from, if the labour conditions were independently audited. Brunswick’s sardines and canned salmon from Sealord, John West and Countdown own brand are all reliably slave-free.
Image by Jennifer Pallian via Unsplash.
Unlike tinned salmon, salmon that’s fresh, frozen or smoked will have been farmed.
The farms themselves aren’t usually a concern: they’re always located near the coast (easy for labour inspectors to access) and are mostly in countries where labour laws are strongly enforced. The real concern here is the feed. Farmed salmon are fed on wild-caught fish, and the fish used to produce that feed is often caught and/or processed using slave labour.
Fortunately, most brands available here are now using feed suppliers that audit their supply chain for slavery.
We are confident that salmon from Huon, Regal, Sanford, Southern Ocean, Mt Cook, Ōra King and Aoraki has been fed on slave-free feed. The salmon from the fish counters in Countdown, PakNSave and New World supermarkets all comes from slave-free suppliers.
Image by Vino Li via Unsplash.
Sadly, prawns and shrimp are extremely likely to have been produced with slave labour. Most prawns and shrimp are farmed and, unlike salmon farms, prawn farms are mostly located in countries where slave labour is common. Like salmon, they’re fed on wild-caught fish that are commonly caught and/or processed using slave labour. Prawns and shrimp are also commonly sold peeled, and peeling is frequently done using either child or forced labour.
With all those risk factors, I was pleasantly surprised to find any good options at all! Just Kai is pleased to recommend Kingfisher prawns, sold in New World and PakNSave. We’re particularly glad to support them as they’re a Thai company. Slavery is rife in the Thai seafood industry so it’s great to see a company bucking that trend!
Image by Matthew LeJune via Unsplash.
Most shellfish sold in New Zealand is slave-free, regardless of brand.
That’s because our shellfish is mostly farmed or gathered close to land in New Zealand, a country with well-enforced labour laws; farmed species live on the algae naturally present in seawater, so there are no concerns about slavery in the feed supply chain; if it’s processed at all, that processing is done here in New Zealand, again overseen by strong labour laws.
The only common things you need to be careful of are scallops and, occasionally, paua.
Scallops are usually marked with their country of origin: only buy scallops from New Zealand, Australia, Peru or the US. Paua is usually slave-free, but the really premium paua is farmed. Farmed paua are fed on wild-caught fish, and we haven’t found any paua farms using guaranteed slave-free feed. Farmed mussels and oysters, on the other hand, find their own feed; whether farmed or wild-harvested, these species are always fine.
Image by Nguyen Dang Hoa Nhu via Unsplash.
It takes a little care to shop for ethical seafood, but it’s definitely possible! It’s also worth putting in the hard work before your shopping trip so you can rest easy knowing that your dollars are supporting slave-free brands.
At Just Kai, we have buying guides to help: each includes a summary pdf to take with you when you shop.
Unfortunately, we haven’t yet found slave-free prawn dumplings, tinned mackerel or squid. If those are things you love, contact your favourite brands and ask them to work on their supply chain.
We’d love to hear how you get on!