The most common question I get from chefs, restaurateurs, students, and just people interested in the environment is: What is sustainable seafood and how do I know if I am using it? Unfortunately, that is a difficult question to answer because there are no clear-cut answers for many of the seafoods. This month, however, I will try to give you some guidelines to follow for the most common fish we use.
To begin with, sustainable seafood is seafood from either fished or farmed sources that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the ecosystems from which it was acquired. This means it is seafood we are not harvesting faster than the population can be replenished, or the farms we are harvesting from are not destroying other systems. It is extremely hard for us to know exactly which fish are being caught correctly, but let’s go over some of the more common fish:
American catfish, tilapia, trout: Farmed is the way to go with these fish, but try to use farmed in the United States vs ones farmed in China. The Chinese use many pollutants which hurt nearby waters.
Crabs: Blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay will be completely gone in the next few years. Try using Oregon and Washington dungeness, as they are the model crab fisheries for the world.
Salmon: Wild Alaskan salmon is the best bet here. A lot of people think that if the salmon is farm-raised, it must be sustainable, but that is not always true. Farm-raised on the East coast uses so many chemicals and pollutants, that they are destroying the neighboring eco-systems. Over fishing in the Atlantic is also becoming a problem. If you can’t get wild Alaskan, at least use wild or farm-raised from the West coast.
Scallops: Farm raised is the only way to go here (unless you can get true diver scallops). Wild scallops are harvested by dredging the ocean floor, which destroys other ecosystems. Also, use a dry pack to avoid have scallops pumped full of sodium tripolyphosphate.
Shrimp: This is probably the hardest to determine because of the pollutants being used in the farm raised, and the by-catch waste being destroyed in wild catch. Personally, I think the best option is to use farm raised in the US, and especially if it is labeled as organic-simply because there are not so many chemical contaminants. At the very least, avoid farmed shrimp from the Far East.
Definitely avoid Atlantic cod, grouper, orange roughy, Atlantic swordfish, and red snapper. As a general rule, anything from the Atlantic is being overfished or over-contaminated in farms; and the same is happening in the Far East, especially China. I know that it easier to say, “What is the difference if I use a couple cases of grouper, it’s not going to change anything.” Well, if we turn our heads to the destruction of our foods, future generations will never know the wonderful tastes and experiences we have enjoyed and, unfortunately, taken for granted. Let your staff and guests know why you will not use certain seafoods, and they will respond with more respect and loyalty to our restaurants and industry.
-William Knapp; FMP, CEC, CCA, CHE, MIHTM