Sustainable (Restorative?) Seafood
Yellow is the New Green
As a chef of a Seafood Restaurant located in San Francisco, I am faced with the dilemma of what fish to order, and what fish to avoid. Even if you order right, you will always have that one guest pull out their IPhone with the newly installed Monterrey Bay Aquarium Consumer Guide app, to tell you that you should not be serving a particular species of fish. You then have to explain to them that they are correct but the information they are being provided is not complete. A good example would Pacific Rockfish or Rock Cod. Most restaurants mislabel this fish and sell it as Pacific Red Snapper. Unfortunately for us there is no such thing as Pacific Red Snapper on the US West Coast. If you do a little homework you will quickly learn that there about 70 different species of Pacific Rockfish. The majority of the Rockfish coming into the Bay area is Canadian trawl caught (Giant cone shaped nets that that are dragged behind boats and catch everything in their path and pose two major problems; Bycatch and Disruption of the Habitat.) If you go down into Fisherman's Wharf and order Fish and Chips, many restaurants are serving the Canadian Rock Cod-reason? It is the least expensive.
Getting back to our concerned guest, I will share with them the reason why I serve Local Rockfish (actually called Black Gill Snapper). First and foremost the quality is better than that of the Canadian Rockfish, this fish local (important buzz word for our time), it comes out of a managed fishery in Morro Bay, and I can tell you that the name of the vessel that caught the fish was the Millennium. It is also rated yellow by both Monterrey Bay Aquarium and FishWise. Yellow would make this fish a Good Alternative to the Canadian Rockfish which carries a red -Avoid rating.
It's definitely challenging out there for us Chef's. We want to make good choices, we want our seafood to be safe, ideally local. We like this word "sustainable" to be included with all of our species that we sell. We have to ask the right questions, demand transparency, and make them prove the legitimacy of their claims. After we do all of this we still need a third party to verify the information at hand. We go to an NGO like FishWise or the Marine Stewardship Council. They give us the green light. Now we have to factor in our fiduciary responsibility to the owners and investors of the restaurant and then our concept. If you can charge $36 for Alaskan Halibut, then you will have many more choices than a restaurant that offers its faire for under $20.
That means that I can serve the "good alternative", buy yellow sell yellow, and still be able to make some green for the powers to be.
Am I really being sustainable by making these purchase choices? Or am I being restorative? If you menu is made up of 85% sustainable seafood, you are not really sustainable. So call it what it is restorative. You are making a positive impact. You are easing the pressure on the other species that are struggling, by buying fish that is caught by using better practices, better managed, and more plentiful.
Here is a few things you can do to improve your seafood purchasing.
- Know your sources; Monterrey Bay Aquarium, FishWise, FishChoice, MSC etc.
- Ask your purveyors lots of questions, demand transparency
- Buy locally and Seasonally
- Be flexible and creative. Flexibility is the key.
- Buy low in the food chain: Tuna is at the top, sardines are at the bottom.
- Support small scale fisheries
- Educate and engage your guests