I love fish and seafood in general but the stocks of wild seafood, some of our most precious resources, have been under unsustainable pressure for years. The dwindling populations are reason to be concerned, very concerned at that. I can remember 20 years ago the loins of swordfish that I broke down while working in a restaurant. They were gigantic. I don’t see loins like that anymore. Or how about cod 25 years ago? Huge thick slabs of flaky white meat. What’s sold as cod today might have been more aptly been considered scrod back in the day. Scrod, by the way, is simply a young, smaller cod, though sometimes haddock is sold as scrod.
As we all move toward eating in a fashion that is more responsible, both for our own health as well as the communal health of our planet, our attention should be focused on those resources we are most likely to lose. The oceans are a big mystery to us in many ways: their uncharted depths, their unrelenting currents, and the impending effect of man’s influence. We know already that many breeding stocks of fish are nearly depleted and need our help in order to recover.
Unlike the meat and poultry industries, it’s simply not possibly to farm the world’s fishes in quantities that meet demand, and unfortunately many types of seafood can not be effectively farmed. I will leave the harmful impact of irresponsible farming, seafood or otherwise, to discuss another day. If we are to preserve the world’s supply of seafood for generations to come we will have to eat responsibly today. But where to begin?
There are many resources out there that can help one select sustainable and healthy seafood. The problem, of course, is that we are often faced with new, and unusual options, particularly when dining out or on vacation. Well, there is an answer, or rather several, to help guide you through your choices no matter where you might find yourself.
I’ve actually written about the Monterey Bay Aquarium before, recommending it as a great side trip if you find yourself on a visit to the local wine country. The fees collected by the aquarium help to fund research that is designed to help to preserve the complex West Coast ecosystem. That eye toward preservation has been extended to the kitchen with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's downloadable Seafood Watch pocket guides to seafood. You’ll find guides for each region of the U.S. as well as a national overview and a handy sushi guide.
If you live outside of the U.S. or are planning to travel abroad, the World Wildlife Fund has assembled seafood guides for many popular travel destinations world-wide. These guides are written in the native language of the country it’s intended for, which may make it difficult to fully understand, though it does make it easy to spot your best choices on dinner menus! The WWF Sustainable Seafood page also has some handy links to other useful guides.
When dining out, you may want to consider the reputation of a restaurant before making reservations. While fish2fork, self-described as the campaigning restaurant guide for people who want to eat fish, has a limited number of restaurants in its database, it’s a resource I wholeheartedly endorse. The listings are particularly strong for the UK, with additional listings for Spain and the USA, though I expect their scope to grow with time. While some of the ratings may seem to be a bit drastic, the truth is that in many cases it’s time for drastic measures.
Fish2fork reviews restaurants on their adherence to sustainable seafood policies and the transparency with which the establishments promote those policies. I applaud and support their efforts and hope you all join in supporting this high-minded project.
I would like to end with a recommendation of fish you can use for the traditional Feast of the 7 Fishes, a classic Italian Christmas feast. While the dishes prepared for the feast vary region by region, and household by household for that matter, they typically have included staples such as sardines, eel, and salt cod.
With an eye towards sustainability, I propose a few changes to some classic dishes and give you my suggestions for a Feast of the 7 Fishes, 2011-style.
Fried Catfish Fingers with Spicy Sauce
Linguini with Mussels Fra Diavolo
U.S. pink shrimp
Shrimp Scampi with Fettuccine
Wild Alaskan salmon
Sicilian-Style Baked Cod
Saffron Halibut with Salsa Verde