Fish, Green Fish
Published in Natural Home, Nov./Dec. 2002
eat or not to eat? It's not easy making your way through the
tangled nets of sustainable seafood choices -- but a host
of celebrity chefs want to help.
FEW YEARS AGO, New York chef Peter
Hoffman came across a chart listing the best, worst, and so-so
ecological choices for seafood. "Everything on my menu was
in the red zone, and I didn't know how to cook -- or nobody
wanted to eat -- anything that was in the green," Hoffman
recalls. After reading more about the negative impacts of
the seafood industry, from the overcrowding of farmed salmon
to the overfishing of wild monkfish, the chef started rearranging
the menu at the renowned Savoy Restaurant.
Savoy's menu now stars "aqua-friendly" dishes such as grilled
sardines and wild Alaskan salmon seven days a week, and Hoffman
now chairs the Chefs Collaborative (CC), a network of 1,000-plus
culinary professionals dedicated to local, seasonal, and sustainable
spring the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California,
invited Hoffman and a dozen other celebrated CC chefs, including
Nora Pouillon, who founded Restaurant Nora, America's first
certified organic restaurant, to educate and entice seafood
lovers with sustainable dishes such as three-beet caviar and
smoked hoki salad. Water is a giant unknown to most people,"
Alice Waters, founder of the revolutionary Chez Panisse in
Berkeley, California, told the crowd. "But if we don't pay
attention and protect it, we aren't going to survive."
TRUE COSTS OF FISH
sustainable seafood may sometimes cost a bit more, Hoffman
says that conventionally produced food often carries a low
price tag that doesn't reflect the real cost of production.
"You can't really produce any fish for $2.50 a pound," the
current price of farmed salmon, says Hoffman.
low prices often conceal habitat destruction, water pollution,
overfishing, and by-catch (unwanted fish and sea mammals inadvertently
trapped and killed in fishermen's nets). And the rapid rise
in global demand for seafood is depleting the oceans: Seventy
percent of the world's fisheries are fully fished or overfished,
says Jennifer Dianto, who heads the Monterey Bay Aquarium's
Seafood Watch program.
some cases, the aquarium approves farmed fish because they
relieve the pressure facing species in the wild; in others,
farmed seafood is more problematic. For example, farmed Atlantic
salmon are raised in netted pens where the fish and their
byproducts can easily escape to coastal waters, spreading
disease and polluting the water with their antibiotic-laden
devastation is another major concern. Fishing nets combing
for bottom feeders such as cod are removing their homes and
breeding and feeding grounds, says Dianto. Once damaged, the
living seafloor can take centuries to grow back. Habitat loss
is also tied to fish farming, such as in Southeast Asia, where
shrimp farms have replaced valuable mangrove ecosystems.
Restauranteurs are heeding the aquarium's advice. You won't
find conventionally caught wild shrimp -- often associated
with significant amounts of by-catch -- on the menu at Chez
Panisse or the Savoy, for example. That's because, for every
pound of shrimp caught, some three to four pounds of marine
life, most notably sea turtles, are also killed by the nets.
spite of the threats to aquatic wildlife, there are many choices
out there that don't compromise our oceans or palates. Hoffman
sees sustainable cooking as a chance to learn about how our
food is produced and to reconnect to the stories behind the
isn't a red, yellow, and green issue but a continuum, the
chef says. It's not about a perfect world," says Hoffman,
"it's about taking steps in the right direction."
about the state of the seas but still want to savor the catch
of the day? Here are some steps you can take.
Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Card (www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp)
and take it with you to restaurants and seafood counters.
If a seafood's origin isn't well identified, ask about it;
if sustainable choices aren't available, be a pioneer and
suggest some. --Look for the Marine Stewardship Council's
identifying sustainable seafood products.
Experiment with preparing your own sustainable seafood.
The Seafood Lover's Almanac (Audubon's Living Oceans 2000),
edited by Mercedes Lee, contains information, illustrations,
and recipes pertaining to sustainable species. To order,
call (888) 277-4482 or visit http://seafood.audubon.org.
Check out the web-based Seafood Lover's Guide, based on
the book, at www.audubon.org/campaign/lo/seafood/guide.html).
--Join the Chefs Collaborative (www.chefnet.com/cc2000)
and patronize its member restaurants.
Ask your Congressional representatives to sponsor legislation
protecting our waters from wasteful and destructive fishing
practices. The Marine Fish Conservation Network will contact
them for you from its website, www.conservefish.org.
New England's fishing industry is on the verge of collapse,
strict federal restrictions have begun to revive some of the
depleted stocks. The depleted species are mostly groundfish
such as cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder. Others include
summer flounder (fluke) and scallops as well as migratory
species such as tuna, billfish, and sharks. New federal regulations
that went into effect last spring reduced the number of days
fishermen could work by 20 percent, required the closing of
key fishing grounds, and limited the size of fish that could
be caught by recreational fishermen. Despite some progress,
and the return of a healthy fluke population, environmental
groups have pointed out that of the 304 fish stocks assessed
annually by the National Marine Fisheries Service, 93 are
still being overfished. Tuna, billfish, and shark populations
remain stressed because other nations aren't cooperating with
the limits. --Summer McElley
warnings about fish consumption by pregnant women may not
be strong enough, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) charges.
Last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised
pregnant women to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel,
and tile fish because they contain high levels of methyl mercury.
After the EWG urged that tuna be included in that list and
accused the FDA of watering down its warnings under pressure
from industry groups, the FDA commissioned independent scientists
to review the advice. In the meantime, those concerned about
the safety of the fish they're eating can log on to the Seafood
Selector at the Environmental Defense website at www.environmentaldefense.org.
The site includes safety and health facts for more than 150