sustainable seafood

Most authorities agree that eating more seafood and shellfish and less red and processed meat is a choice that’s good for your health and much better for the environment. Unfortunately, with many seafood choices, there are three other important considerations: omega-3s, mercury and sustainability which sometimes do, but don’t always align as we might like them to. Let’s take on sustainability for this article.

Sustainable seafood is a vast, controversial, and complicated discussion. We have all heard how our oceans are in trouble (they are), how farmed fish and shellfish are problematical and shouldn’t be consumed (not true for the most part), how water quality and habitat are being irretrievably degraded (absolutely true). A few facts:

  • 90% of the world’s wild fisheries are either fully fished or overfished. Its why farmed seafood is becoming more important. It’s estimated that at least 50% of seafood that we consume comes from farmed sources.
  • Unregulated pollution (especially oil drillers as well as our beloved farmers) are wreaking havoc with our ocean and fresh water sources. One particularly picturesque nightmare is that by 2050 there will be more plastic (micro and otherwise) in our oceans than fish (see for more details)
  • Protective habitats are being destroyed at an alarming rate, from coral reefs to mangroves which provide important breeding grounds for the next generations of our delicious fish and shellfish

So, what to do? We can help turn the tide; I hope. Clearly one thing we can all do is to support consuming sustainable seafood. So, what is that? Probably the simplest way to think of it is that it is seafood that is managed and fished using practices that ensures there will always be more to catch in the future.

It begins with using seafood that that is constantly monitored by transparent sources. Luckily, we have many resources to choose from. For me, the gold standard is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch initiative which I’ve been involved with since its inception. Many of you are no doubt familiar with its pocket guides and app with it’s simple to follow green/yellow/red recommendations. It’s a valuable resource for both professionals and home cooks and its advice is backed by extensive science-based research,

A few other resources that I support and follow (this is not a complete list by any means) include:

  • Seafood from Alaska boasts having one of the world’s few governments that is truly dedicated to sustainability. It’s a commitment that dates all the way back to Alaska becoming a state in 1959, when Alaskans wrote sustainability into their Constitution which calls for all its fisheries to be sustainably managed and protected forever,  
  • Smart Catch, a James Beard Foundation program. This program provides training and support to chefs so they can serve seafood fished or farmed in environmentally responsible ways. By becoming a Smart Catch Leader and earning the Smart Catch seal, chefs give consumers a simple way to identify and support their restaurants,
  • Marine Stewardship Council whose guides are equally as important as those from Seafood Watch. They are certifiers for sustainable fisheries,
  • Fish Choice which has a comprehensive guide for a broad range of species and includes data from many other sustainable guides including those above,
  • I also like the Ocean Wise Seafood Program from the Vancouver B.C. Aquarium which includes recommendations and discussions of seafood related issues,

Bottom line . . . don’t buy or consume seafood that doesn’t have one or more recommendations/certifications from these sources. It’s OK to be a little obnoxious when you are in the market or at a restaurant or a taco stand or wherever seafood is offered and ask for proof of sustainability. If they can’t supply that proof, then go somewhere else. I’ll be there with ya!

Here are some of my favorite recipes that use sustainable fish and shellfish. 

  • Deviled Dungeness Crab
  • Shrimp Court Bouillon with Rice
  • Thai Tomato Soup with Fresh Mussels
  • Rockfish Vera Cruz style
  • Oysters with Jalapeno Salsa
  • Scallop Poke
  • Clam Fritters

Get all of the recipes here!