Photo credit: Rick Moonen/RM Seafood
If you love seafood, the six weeks between Mardi Gras and Easter is likely one of your favorite times of the year. It doesn’t hurt that restaurants, fish markets and grocery stores are awash with Lenten promotions, resulting in the most profitable period for seafood sales.
So why not use this time to get out of your comfort zone? Put down the tuna and salmon and try something new; the seafood market has an abundance of options. Additionally, consumers are seeking out local and sustainable seafood like never before, representing some of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry for the past several years.
But which fish are the best to buy? Tools like EDF’s mobile Seafood Selector and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app are great ways to have sustainable seafood recommendations at your fingertips. Some fish pundits like Chef Alton Brown – host of Good Eats and other programs on the Food Network – go so far as to encourage consumers to ignore all the labels and just “Buy American.” In the absence of definitive information, this might be your best option. However, it’s usually a good bet that your fishmonger or server can tell you where their fish is from.
Did you know?
The average piece of fish can be handled by up to 10-15 people before it gets to your plate. This isn’t inherently bad, especially if it’s coming from remote waters, like Alaska’s Bering Sea. However, more and more seafood lovers want to know who caught their fish, and more importantly, how long it’s taken to get to market. In response, a number of companies, fishermen and nonprofits alike are committed to “shortening the supply chain” between the ocean and your plate. Here’s a sampling of some of our favorites:
- Gulf Wild provides individually tagged, traceable and responsibly-caught red snapper and grouper from the Gulf of Mexico.
- Ecofish is one of the first all-sustainable seafood companies. Their products can be found in health food and natural food stores all across the country.
- I Love Blue Sea is a California-based company selling a variety of seafood online and direct to consumers. They recently added Gulf Coast and Chesapeake Bay products too.
- Dock to Dish is a new startup on the East End of Long Island that delivers fresh, hand-caught Montauk seafood to New York City restaurants and consumers within 24 hours.
- Sea 2 Table partners with local fishermen from small-scale wild fisheries around the country to get their catch direct to market as fast as possible.
- Community Supported Fisheries have sprung up in the last few years in the mold of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). Basically, you pay a local fisherman upfront for a share of his catch and receive a regular seafood delivery throughout the season.
- Trash Fish or ‘underutilized’ or ‘underappreciated’ seafood species are all the rage right now, and our good friends at Chefs Collaborative are hosting a series of dinners around the country that hope to spread awareness about fish that are sustainably-caught yet undervalued.
It's never been easier to find sustainable, healthy seafood that directly benefits local, responsible fishermen. So put down that generic fish sandwich and help ensure that this trend continues.
Environmental Defense Fund recently released the latest version of its popular Seafood Selector, a tool to help make consumers aware of critical ocean conservation issues through the fish that they and their families eat. Today I want to take a moment to remember what life was like in 2001, when our first version came out as a small black-and-white paper cutout in the organization's quarterly member newsletter. (I know it’s hard to believe, but most people still received their environmental news by snail mail back in those days).
Back then, most people still didn’t have cell phones, and those that did just kept them in their gloveboxes for emergencies. I was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, studying shark ecology and physiology. Even as a young marine biologist, I was largely unaware of the impacts of our personal choices on the health of the oceans.
Raising consumer awareness of ocean conservation issues was no easy task 12 years ago – and is still a challenge today – given the complexity of how most fish makes it to our plates. For example, here are some interesting facts you might not know about the U.S. seafood market:
- More than 90% of U.S. seafood is now imported.
- Almost two-thirds of our imported fish comes from Asia.
- Our seafood trade deficit is approximately $11 billion. That’s billion with a ‘B’.
- Almost 60% of U.S. seafood consumption is from 3 items (shrimp, canned tuna, salmon). If you add ‘whitefish’, like pollock, cod and tilapia, the per capita total goes up to 80%.
- More than 50% of U.S. seafood is now farm-raised.
- Roughly 33% of U.S. seafood is mislabeled.
- Americans eat 10% less seafood than they did in 2004 (15 lbs/person in 2011 versus 16.6 lbs/person in 2004).
Consumers care about sustainability now more than ever. That means they want to know where their food comes from, and more importantly, what impact its production had on the environment. This is especially true in restaurants, where a recent survey of chefs by the National Restaurant Association found that local and sustainable seafood accounted for three of the Top 10 culinary trends for 2013.
EDF's latest version of the Seafood Selector makes it easier than ever for seafood lovers to make fish choices that are healthy for them AND the oceans, with profiles of more than 200 types of commonly eaten seafood. The new Seafood Selector is also optimized for just about every type of mobile device out there. (I, for one, can’t wait to see what the 2023 Seafood Selector looks like!) So whether you want to know the difference between farmed and wild salmon, the mercury content of different types of tuna, or learn more about EDF’s fisheries work around the country – Seafood Selector is the tool for you.
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.