For the Love of Fish
By Amanda Faison
The health of the ocean and its fisheries pose a larger question than just what's for dinner. As the Monterey Bay Aquarium frames it, “The ocean sustains all life on Earth. From the air we breathe to the seafood we eat, our very survival depends on healthy seas.” That’s a lot to shoulder when standing in front of the fish counter or scanning a menu. And that responsibility is magnified for the chefs sourcing, cooking, and serving seafood at their restaurants.
Among the many conundrums chefs and eaters must weigh is the topic of farmed vs. wild fish. The answer for many depends on where you live and which species you favor. But one thing is for sure, says Simone Jones, Seafood Watch Business Engagement Manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we all need to ask more questions. “Consumers need to find out more information about their seafood, choose sustainable products, eat different species, and choose to eat at restaurants that have made commitments to source only sustainable seafood,” she said, while addressing a crowd at last summer’s Eat. Drink. Think. in Crested Butte. Only when we have those answers in front of us will we begin to understand the impact (both good and bad) of our choices.
But still, which seafood to eat can be a murky topic. To dive deeper into sustainability, we turned to four 2017 Good Food 100 Restaurants™ chefs who are committed to making a difference.
On the importance of championing lesser known species…
“We took the initiative to not be the tuna, salmon, scallop, mussel restaurant. I’m a huge fisherman and I started trying everything and implementing [those lesser known species] in my restaurants. I think our customers embrace the educational element. No one walks in here looking for salmon.” —Steve Phelps, chef-owner, Indigenous, Sarasota, Florida, and a Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Taskforce chef
“We offset the demand by creating a demand for new species. We don’t have any kickback from the community because we don’t have grouper or salmon. In the case of triggerfish—it’s very specific to Charleston— we introduced it and now it’s popular and regulated.” —Mike Lata, of FIG and The Ordinary, Charleston, South Carolina
On wild vs. farmed fish…
“I’m absolutely opposed to farmed salmon and thankfully our state government just banned it in our waters. The reasoning is pretty straightforward: To farm a salmon costs an ungoldly amount of money and fish protein to produce. I think it’s a foolish business venture. On the other hand, I support farmed shellfish—most of it is farmed, although there are some wild sets. I’m trying to be a part of something that does that least damage and most good.” —Renee Erickson, chef-owner, Eat Sea Creatures, Seattle, Washington, and a James Beard Foundation Smart Catch chef.
“We buy Ora King Salmon farmed out of New Zealand, and it is the only Green listed farmed salmon. It is great stuff and I feel good about buying it. —Jennifer Jasinski, Crafted Concepts, Denver, Colorado, and a James Beard Foundation Smart Catch chef.
On understanding the larger impact of your choices…
“How can fishermen catch a species that’s lesser known like rudderfish or porgy and sells at a lower price when their costs are the same? We say same boat, same captain, same price. If we don’t buy the fish, the fisherman go out of business. I want to make a point of supporting our [well maintained] fisheries—it’s culture for us, it’s our community, and without it, Charleston wouldn’t be the same.” —Mike Lata
“I suggest guests download the Monterey Seafood Watch app and when they dine out look at the fish people are serving. I prompt them to ask questions to servers and such about where was this fish caught? What type of fishing method? Because you can sometimes have a fish that is good one place and on the bad list others, much has to do with catch method and location.” —Jennifer Jasinski
“People are trusting us to make those tough decisions. Programs like Good Food 100 and Smart Catch are forcing chefs to audit what they’re doing and get direct feedback from scientists and people who are paying attention to that all the time. It’s an awesome way to examine what we’re doing and put our money where our mouths are. And it’s helping nudge our guests in the direction that’s better for the environment.”—Renee Erickson