If you love ordering seafood when you’re dining out, chances are you’ve seen the Ocean Wise symbol. This handy icon can be found in supermarkets and on the menus of more than 3,000 restaurants across Canada, and its appearance denotes responsible, sustainable seafood choices identified by the Ocean Wise program.

Launched by the Vancouver Aquarium in 2005, the Ocean Wise program was created to help address the most immediate threat facing the world’s oceans—overfishing. “We wanted to make choosing sustainable seafood a no-brainer,” says Mike McDermid, the program’s former manager.

Ocean Wise provides consumers with “recommended” choices based on four criteria: abundant numbers, comprehensive management plan, limited bycatch, and limited damage to the surrounding environment and other species during harvest.

The program also works directly with interested restaurants and suppliers by helping them to steer people toward sustainable choices (like albacore tuna and sablefish), and identify unsustainable seafood items (like bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass). Among the first chefs to join forces with Ocean Wise was Frank Pabst, of Vancouver’s Blue Water Café + Raw Bar. Understanding that his very livelihood as a seafood chef depends heavily on preserving the world’s oceans, Pabst created the Unsung Heroes festival, which celebrates abundant yet slightly obscure sea creatures (like sardines and jellyfish) by serving them in enticing ways. “It’s an opportunity to showcase 12 different species that are a little under-appreciated,” he says of the event, held at the restaurant each February.

Another Vancouver chef, Ned Bell, is also wholly committed to Ocean Wise. He insists his entire team at Yew restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver undergo annual training with Ocean Wise staff, as well as daily education at the restaurant, all so they can engage customers with details of their meals’ origins and inform their curiosities about sustainability. “I hope guests go home and wonder about who brought the seafood to their tables,” says Bell.

Top 6 types of recommended seafood

  • B.C. spot prawns
  • B.C. albacore tuna
  • Pacific halibut
  • Sablefish
  • Farmed shellfish (mussels, clams, oysters, scallops)
  • Farmed steelhead trout