By Kristen Honey, EDF Lorry Lokey Fellow
Are sardines making a sustainable and sumptuous comeback? The Washington Post attempted to address this very question yesterday in a provocative article about the self-proclaimed “Sardinistas.” According to this group of nutritionists, environmentalists and foodie revolutionaries, the answer is a resounding “yes!” Sardine advocates and cutting-edge green chefs like Dean Gold and David Myers are bringing this smelly canned food out of the cob-webbed cabinet corner and back into the kitchen in innovative new ways. Or they are trying to, at least.
Just recently, I had the privilege of attending a private luncheon with the Sardinistas at filmmaker Mark Shelley’s Sea Studios Foundation on Monterey’s Cannery Row. The purpose of this luncheon was to highlight their recent efforts to promote sardines as a delicious and sustainable seafood choice. What struck me was their point that while Americans love eating tuna and other steak-like fish, we need to eat fish farther down the food chain (like sardines) to help alleviate pressure at the top.
After talking shop, we had the chance to eat delectable canned, frozen and fresh sardine dishes by renowned chef Alton Brown of The Food Network! If you don’t take my word for how tasty these creatures can be, try out for yourself these sardine-centric recipes for Sarde Arrosto (Griddle Roasted Sardines), Stuffed Sardines and Vuido (widowed potatoes).
I was pleased that the group tied in the tastings with a bit of history, noting that Cannery Row was once considered the sardine Mecca of the U.S. in the late 1930s. However, by the 1950s the sardine population was severely depleted due to poor fishery management that didn’t take into account natural ocean cycles.
The tides have changed (no oceans pun intended) for these cute little guys and today EDF’s Seafood Selector rates Pacific sardines as an “eco-best fish.” Their re-emergence was no accident; the sardine fishery is now managed in a sustainable way, with fishing quotas at one-tenth of what they were during the 1930s. So listen to your curious, daring taste-buds and eat some sardines for a change – not only do all those omega-3 fatty acids improve your health, but you are doing a service to the planet.