A Sustainable Kitchen Vol.2 : Sustainable Seafood – What Can (and Should) We Do?

by Barton Seaver
February 2007

TALKING FISH

QUANTITY AND QUALITY

THE POWER TO GUIDE POPULAR TASTE

McDONALD’S COMMITS, WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Recommended Readings:

  • Sourcing Seafood, a Resource Guide for Chefs by Seafood Choices Alliance* *This includes a list of over 400 producers, purveyors, organization and fisherman that do direct sales. Every single chef in America should have this in their kitchen, it should be standard issue at culinary school. Available for order.Click Here
  • Sea Change by Sylvia Earle
  • Defying Ocean's End by Linda Glover and Sylvia Earle
  • Ends of the Line by Charles Clover
  • Stalking the Blue Eyed Scallop by Euell Gibbons
  • Fish by AJ Mclain**This book is so valuable to me because it teaches you so much about all the fish, but it's 40 years out of print…
  • North Atlantic Seafood by Alan Davidson
  • Tsukiji: the Fish Market at the Center of the World by Theodore C. Bestor
  • King of Fish: The Thousand-Year Run of Salmon by David R. Montgomery
  • Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau
  • The Outermost House by Henry Beston

Purveyors and Resorces:

Purveyors:

Ocean Boy Farms
Eco Fish
Sunburst Trout Farms

Internet Resources:

IntraFish

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Endangered Fish Alliance

Marine Fish Conservation Network

Sea Web

Marine Stewardship Council

Pacific Marine Conservation Council

Environmental Defense Action Network

"I am proud to say that our venison is a lean, clean product based on the principles of sustainable farming."

~Trevor Pierce, Cervena Farmer.
For more info, please visit cervena.com

TALKING FISH:
Last month, a group of chefs, purveyors, fisherman, journalists and conservationists gathered in Jacksonville, Florida to talk about fish. We talked about how we, in our respective professions, relate to each other in our missions, our actions and our daily pursuits. Humans have long seen the oceans as an endless resource from which to take, but this notion has been challenged recently as we begin to understand the detrimental impact of our actions. Within the past few decades we’ve seen the health of our oceans decline to alarming levels. Bigger and better-equipped boats have led to the pillaging of stocks once thought to be inexhaustible. The effects of fishing methods such as trawling, which rakes the seabed for ground-dwelling fish, have destroyed marine habitats, reducing breeding grounds for repopulation. Furthermore, industrial pollution has contributed to the degradation of fragile ecosystems, often leaving them devoid of life. By some accounts, up to a quarter of marine life that is caught is discarded as waste due to lack of market value; this bycatch is an irresponsible and indiscriminate waste of a resource that we are now beginning to realize is finite. More than 70% of the world’s fish stocks are fished beyond a level at which the populations can easily sustain themselves, and the management policies used to govern our oceans’ harvest have proven to be short-sighted and inadequate. In a few short decades, we have rapidly altered the balance of the seas, and in the process have become the ocean’s most dangerous predator.

QUANTITY AND QUALITY:
Ok, so that’s what’s happened. Now what are we going to do? Issues pertaining to sustainable fish have gained a lot of traction both in the media as well as within the restaurant community, and there are many fantastic organizations dedicated to solving the problems we face. Chefs, purveyors, conservationists and industry folk have begun meeting at sustainable seafood conferences across the nation. Savvy consumers are beginning to demand that restaurants pay closer attention to the products that we offer. Many in the organic community see responsible fishing as an extension of our role as stewards of the earth. It is hard for humans to grasp the issues affecting marine species, in part because the oceans are so vast, we perceive them as an inexhaustible resource. The great writer and scientist Sylvia Earle describes our knowledge of the oceans as “similar to that of a dolphin jumping from the water to look around, and assuming that what is seen is an accurate account of the whole.” But governments are beginning to tackle this challenge with new vigor, and chefs can play a huge role in this charge.

Over 60% of the seafood sold in America is eaten in restaurants. This number reinforces what we already know: that restaurants have a huge impact on consumer taste. So what can we do in our restaurants to help? We must educate ourselves on the issues – both the problems and, most importantly, the solutions. There are many organizations which provide accurate information on the status of fish stocks that we can use to help make responsible decisions. There are many fisheries that can provide delicious and sustainable seafood to our restaurants – though it takes a little extra work to find and source from these areas of the industry. Something as simple as reducing the overall amount of fish that we serve can help reduce the demand placed upon our fisheries. It is not news that Americans eat too much at every meal, especially protein. By offering smaller portions we can reduce the amount of fish consumed at each meal to a healthy level. By replacing quantity with quality it forces us to maximize the craft of cooking so as to offer a delicious and nourishing product.

THE POWER TO GUIDE POPULAR TASTE:
Possibly the most important contribution that we can make is to help guide popular tastes. Many of the fish that are most in jeopardy are the most popular fish on fine dining menus (think cod, bluefin tuna, flounder, and Caspian caviar, to name a few). As a community, we must decide that it is no longer fashionable to serve fish that cannot sustain the quantity we demand. It is irresponsible to think that our customers’ palates supersede issues of environmental sustainability. We need to establish and celebrate the value of the unique flavors of fish that can be sourced responsibly. We should not simply offer substitutes for over-fished products, but rather remove their presence in fine dining by creating demand for new and unique experiences. It is not enough to offer sablefish as a substitute for Chilean sea bass – the customer is likely to love the fish, but having been told that sablefish ‘tastes like CSB’ they will continue to ask for sea bass when they return next. It is when in the mind of the customer that sablefish replaces CSB as a preferred choice that a positive change is achieved. Pocket guides and websites can tell a guest what not to order, but only chefs can convince people through taste to actively participate in responsible eating.

McDONALD’S COMMITS, WHAT ABOUT YOU?
It is difficult to know exactly what it is that we are serving when it comes to seafood, in part because there are many different opinions and sources for information regarding the products that we use. In my restaurants, I cross reference a few of these sources to ensure that I am purchasing a product that supports the ethic of a sustainable kitchen. I am adamant in my demand that my purveyors are able to tell me exactly where my fish comes from and how it has been caught. “And knowing is half the battle…” isn’t that how every G.I. Joe cartoon ended? It is by knowing that I am able to provide my guests with a product that I am proud of serving. We disseminate seafood pocket guides from the host stand and with every check. We have set a standard for ourselves that we now must live up to. Understanding and promoting sustainable fish is but one part of chefs’ responsibilities. I truly believe that it is the fine dining sector that must lead the way with this mission – and right now we are falling behind other areas of the food service industry. McDonald’s has served sustainably harvested fish since 2004. What about you?