A conversation with Sophika Kostyniuk, the new Ocean Wise Seafood Program Manager
Sophika, you’ve had quite a diverse journey within the environmental sector, working in seafood as well as forestry. Can you tell me a little bit about how you first got involved in the sustainable seafood movement?
In 2003, I followed my heart and ended up in San Francisco without a job or a U.S. bank account. Within two months’ time, I secured the California Markets Campaigner role with the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture reform. My task was to grow awareness throughout the populous state about the fact that 80 per cent of British Columbia’s farmed salmon was being sold in the U.S., and the majority of it in California. At that time, there were no labelling requirements or information being shared about how the fish were being raised, and the impacts that were occurring in the marine environment back in B.C. It was through this role that I dove headlong into ocean conservation issues and the critical need to choose wisely when we consume fish.
There are so many reasons to care about the oceans and the preservation of its resources. What sparked your passion for the oceans and ocean conservation?
Looking at images of our blue planet, it’s impossible not to be amazed at the vastness and power of our oceans. It’s where life on earth began, and it holds many mysteries yet to be discovered. Growing up and travelling across North America with my family every summer, we spent a lot of time exploring oceans and beaches, so I suppose that my strong connection has been there from a very early age.
As one of the latest members to join the Ocean Wise seafood program, what excites you most about being part of this program?
The passion of the team, the exciting and transformative time in our organization’s history, and the potential to springboard off the incredible foundation that has already been built by the OWS program to take us into a new chapter.
The Ocean Wise seafood program has grown from 16 restaurant partnerships in Vancouver in 2005 to more than 700 partners across Canada today. Where do you see the program going in the future?
I see the program expanding its reach and influence into different regions. I feel that we are in a wonderful place with the program, where we should be able to leverage all of the extraordinary work and momentum that has gotten us to where we sit today, and use this to launch us onto the global stage.
Can you describe what a typical day is like for you as program manager?
I haven’t had a day yet that’s been the same as the one before it. I have been spoiled with mouth-watering and beautifully presented dishes prepared by our partners, and I’ve presented awards at culinary events, spent a lot of time discussing various science assessments for the species that we recommend, and connected with numerous external partners who help us bring validity into our program, and ensure alignment across the ocean conservation sector.
As someone who travelled quite a bit with your family from a young age, do you have a favourite body of water, and why is that your favourite?
I won’t be able to pick just one! There have been so many that have influenced me, from my childhood days snorkelling and shell-collecting off Miami Beach, to diving in Malaysia and the Great Lakes, to sailing in the British Virgin Islands. They have all provided me with extraordinary experiences full of impact.
Working on the Ocean Wise seafood team provides you with the unique experience of spending a lot of time with passionate and extremely talented chefs. Have you picked up on any kitchen tricks through these experiences that you would like to share?
Keep your knives sharp and treat them with respect! And quick pickled cucumbers are a magical treat.
Here is a tricky one! If you had to choose between boating, fishing, snorkelling, scuba diving or just swimming in the ocean, which would you choose and why?
I want to say scuba diving, but since my license expired a long time ago, I vote for snorkelling in warm waters, rich with biodiversity and low sediment loads.
There are a lot of inspiring people working within the sustainable seafood movement. Who is your greatest role model?
The late Zeke Grader, former President of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens Associations in San Francisco. I was housed in Zeke’s office, which was shared with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) when I launched the farmed salmon campaign. Zeke took me under his wing, introducing me to legislators, fishermen, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and even Nancy Pelosi (Speaker of the House in the U.S.). Zeke was a tireless champion for ocean conservation, bringing together unlikely allies like fishermen, environmentalists, farmers and legislators. We all worked together and bonded through Zeke’s infamous fish BBQs and beer nights on the beach in front of our office – 400 m. from the Golden Gate Bridge. Zeke empowered his staff to think big, be bold, and to never, ever give up. Thank you, Zeke!
Thank you so much for taking the time to introduce yourself to the Ocean Wise community and provide a bit of background on your seafood journey. One last question for you: Can you share something unexpected about yourself?
Nancy Pelosi personally approved my fiancé’s visa (to marry a U.S. citizen) after the application got lost in the U.S. system for more than 18 months.