Now on Dartmouth’s Menu: Sustainably Caught Fish

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The cod and haddock are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

two female students getting food from a buffet
Students choose from a variety of dishes, including sustainably harvested cod. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

If you dine at the Class of 1953 Commons, you can now choose fish caught in a way that does not deplete stocks or harm marine habitats. Just look for a little blue oval icon on the menu, identifying the fish as sustainably harvested.  

The seal of approval comes from the Marine Stewardship Council, an international nonprofit organization that, according to its website, “recognizes and rewards efforts to protect oceans and safeguard seafood supplies for the future.” To be given the MSC label, seafood must be caught by a responsible fishery—one that leaves enough fish in the sea to allow stocks to be reproduced; harvests the fish in a way that protects the larger marine ecosystem; and, through management practices, safeguards the resource and the livelihoods that depend on it.

To meet those standards, Dartmouth’s Dining Services (DDS) has to jump through a lot of hoops.

“It’s all about the chain of custody,” says DDS Associate Director Don Reed. “We have to keep detailed records that show that we can trace all our MSC fish back to our distributor, Performance Food Group, which is based in Springfield, Mass. In turn, Performance Food Group has to show that it got the fish from an MSC-certified processor, who got it from an MSC-certified fishery.”

Reed says Dartmouth is the first college in New England to earn the MSC designation. Currently, two items from Performance Food Group, cod and haddock, meet Council standards.

“We put the MSC icon on all our menu screens, and we also put cards out on the serving line to show which fish is certified,” says Reed. Through frequent audits, the Council checks the accuracy of all labeling and advertising, and inspects invoices to assure that the fish is properly sourced and stored separately from other fish. 

Image removed.The cod prepared by Dartmouth Dining Services has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00) 

To be certified, fish need not be locally caught. “Our MSC cod comes from Alaska,” Reed says, and, yes, that means using fossil fuel to transport it. “But the New England stocks have been depleted, so Gulf of Maine cod doesn’t get the MSC label,” he explains.

It’s also true, Reed says, that some non-MSC fish might be considered sustainable. “Our salmon is farm raised off the coast of Maine. Some people also see aquaculture as a way to avoid overfishing.”

Reed says Dartmouth hopes to increase the number of menu items with the MSC label. That would be good news to Andrew Li ’20, who says he notices the blue oval when choosing what he eats at Dartmouth. That doesn’t mean he avoids noncertified fish—deep-fried popcorn shrimp, he admits, is hard to pass up—but Li applauds Dartmouth for participating in the MSC program.

“Fisheries are collapsing all over the world,” says Li. “I think this is a cool thing for DDS to implement.”

Anne Kapuscinski, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Sustainability Science, is also pleased that the managers of Dartmouth Dining Services pay close attention to where the College’s fish comes from.

“Tracking sustainably produced fish is one of the biggest challenges to our food system,” she says. “I commend Dartmouth Dining Services for taking this important step.”

Charlotte Albright