About the Sensible Seafood™ program

Our Sensible Seafood™ Advisory Panel and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program help identify sensible seafood choices in Virginia. These are the questions used to determine whether a type of seafood is sustainable:

What is the seafood source?

Is the seafood from local sources, from other parts of the U.S, or imported? This is important because, like many other commodities, seafood can now be transported all over the globe. Seafood from local sources has the potential to be fresher and reduces the financial and environmental costs of long distance transport. Additionally, U.S. fisheries are better managed than most foreign fisheries. These factors are important when considering where a seafood item might originate.

How is the species population doing?

This seems like an obvious question, but in order to know if the seafood we are consuming is a good choice, we need to know about the life history of the species and if its population is abundant or disappearing. Some species easily reproduce in large numbers and grow to maturity very fast. Others, such as sharks, reproduce and mature more slowly. Understanding these factors is critical for good fisheries management. Abundant species from well managed fisheries make good seafood choices.

Is it wild-caught or farm-raised?

To meet increasing world demand for seafood, many species are now raised on farms, a process called aquaculture. In some cases, the wild stock of a species may be depleted, but there is a sensible supply from aquaculture, like Virginia oysters and catfish. In other cases, the farmed stock has been associated with problems and the wild-caught stock is the better choice, like some imported shrimp.  

How is the seafood harvested?

Are the fishing or aquaculture practices environmentally sound? To answer this question, we must understand fisheries and aquaculture techniques and how they are applied for harvesting different seafood species. Some fishing techniques, like bottom trawling or dredging, have the potential to damage the ocean bottom. Others may have unintended catches of fish, crabs or other unwanted animals. This is called bycatch and can even include accidental drowning of sea turtles or marine mammals. Finally, poorly managed aquaculture operations can damage coastal ecosystems. Well managed fisheries and aquaculture that utilize sound techniques to minimize bycatch and ecosystem impacts provide the best seafood choices.

Local Seafood Makes Sense

U.S. fishermen provide some of the safest and environmentally friendly seafood in the world. Virginia's seafood industry is the third-largest in the country, producing vast amounts of blue crabs, scallops, clams, croaker, spot, striped bass, and oysters that are shipped all over the world. Choosing locally caught or Virginia-raised seafood not only ensures freshness, but also supports our local economy.

Try Something Sensibly New

Just 10 species make up 85% of the seafood American's eat. By choosing a sensible seafood offering that may be a new taste for you, like Chesapeake Ray or blue catfish, not only support local fisheries, but offer additional benefits to marine ecosystems.

Tips for Recreational and Sport Fisheries

Take home only what you need and release unwanted catch quickly and correctly. Even when it comes to bait, avoid wasting fish, shrimp or other shellfish. 

It's okay to let the big ones get away. Larger fish tend to produce more offspring than several small ones. And smaller fish often taste better! 

Avoid boat and anchor damage to sea grass, oyster reefs and other fish habitats. Observe no wake zones to protect marsh grasses—the food and shelter for juvenile fish and shellfish.

Know the limits on type, size, number and location of the fish you catch and obtain necessary permits and licenses. These state and federal regulations exist for your sake and that of future fishermen.

Prevent pollution and protect wildlife by properly disposing of discarded fishing line, hooks, plastic bags, and other trash. Never discharge sewage, fuel, oil or other chemicals into the water.

Sensible Seafood™ Advisory Panel

The Sensible Seafood Advisory Panel meets annually to discuss new information on seafood sources, fisheries management, and species biology and the annual Sensible Seafood™ Pocket Guide is revised accordingly.

The Sensible Seafood Advisory Panel draws from the expertise of Virginia's local fishermen, scientists, seafood distributors, chefs and restaurant owners. Our Advisory Panel includes: Vicki Clark, Virginia Sea Grant (retired); Chef Robert Delany, Sodexo; Dr. John Graves, Virginia Institute of Marine Science; Lisa Haser, Sodexo; Mike Hutt, Virginia Marine Products Board; Chef Patrick Evans-Hylton, Hampton Roads Magazine; Dr. Cynthia Jones, Old Dominion University; Chuck Spencer, High Liner Foods; and Michael Standing, Virginia Beach Restaurant Association and Waterman's Beachwood Grill. Aquarium staff include: Karen Burns, Education Specialist; April Strickland, Capital Campaign Coordinator; and Mark Swingle, Director of Research and Conservation.

Research Partners and Additional Resources

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program
The Virginia Aquarium Sensible Seafood™ Program works in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Monterey Bay's Seafood Watch Program offers an extensive list of seafood ratings, seafood sustainability guides for other parts of the United States, and a free downloadable app.

National Geographic's Barton Seaver, Ocean Sustainability Fellow
Chef, author and National Geographic Fellow, Barton Seaver is on a mission to restore our relationship with the ocean – through dinner. Recognized for his leadership in seafood sustainability, Mr. Seaver joined in the Virginia Aquarium's annual 2013 Sensible Seafood celebration. He believes sustainable seafood is "about giving fish their proper place of respect on the plate." Learn more about his work and sustainable cookbooks, For Cod and Country, and newly released, Where There's Smoke.

Virginia Marine Products Board
The Virginia Marine Products Board, one of our Sensible Seafood Partners, offers extensive information on Virginia's seafood including fact sheets on 16 local species of fish and shellfish. Check these out to learn more about how these seafood items are harvested, their seasonality, nutritional value and more.

NOAA's FishWatch
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) FishWatch provides reliable, up-to-date information about sustainable seafood and fisheries management. FishWatch offers videos, research news, fish profiles, and tips for buying and preparing seafood, bringing sustainable seafood "from the ocean or farm to your plate."

FishChoice Inc.
The Virginia Aquarium Sensible Seafood™ Program works with FishChoice as a Sustainable Seafood Affiliate. FishChoice connects seafood buyers with sustainable seafood suppliers using online networking tools in addition to helping sustainable aquaculture operations and environmentally sound wild fisheries. Their website features product, supplier, and industry directories in addition to seafood guides and industry resources.