Encouraging Words for Sustainable Seafood


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Barry Estabrook has written extensively for us about the plight of the bluefin, as has Trevor Corson. Now Michael Cimarusti, the chef of Providence in Los Angeles, and avid fisherman who wrote about his own Alaskan salmon adventure for the Food Channel just recently. Reading a piece from Paul Greenberg's excellent new Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, Cimarusti decides we should just say no to eating bluefin—the question all chefs, and especially sushi chefs and diners face, as Trevor wrote about eloquently.

However united right-minded chefs and sushi-eaters might be on bluefin, though, there are plenty of other fish in the not-so-sustainable sea, and the most biggest buyers can influence management more powerfully than governments—and certainly faster. In Monday's Wall Street Journal, Paul Ziobro had an encouraging piece about the efforts of large food buyers to support sustainably caught wild fish—something small chefs and restaurants have been doing for years, of course, and the kind Marion and I saw on our Alaskan adventure (here, here, and here), and Michael Cimarusti cleaned and cooked. The efforts so far look preliminary and modest, but the intention is good:

Amid reports the world's oceans are in danger of being emptied of some fish, companies such as McDonald's Corp., Long John Silver's owner Yum Brands Inc. and Red Lobster parent Darden Restaurants Inc. have embraced the growing movement toward more eco-friendly seafood-buying practices.

They are working with scientists and nonprofit groups to ensure the fish they buy is sustainable, meaning caught in a way that doesn't damage the ability of the species to reproduce.

A recent United Nations study predicts that unless something changes, nearly all commercial fisheries will be producing less than 10% of their onetime potential by the middle of this century. Already, almost 30% of the world's fish stocks fall into that category.

The piece is short on specifics, and details the damage that overfishing did to North Atlantic cod based on a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish in the 1980s. But noises are good, particularly when aquaculture is not the obvious solution its proponents claim, as Barry Estabrook pointed out in his post mentioning his depressing Frankenfish sighting.

Ziobro also has a good summary of the problems of fish farming as the solution to harvesting wild stocks:

But aquaculture has its own set of challenges. Farm-raised fish need more pesticides and antibiotics in captivity, and some fish, like salmon, have to be fed dye additives to give their flesh the orange hue consumers expect. Meanwhile farm-raised fish can have an indirect effect on their wild cousins because they consume feed that comes from the sea, which depletes the wild supply.

So, no solutions yet—but careful management by both states like Alaska and, more important, the economic powers that drive the industry are welcome.