Choose Sustainable Seafood

Southern flounder

Southern flounder caught by hook and line

Seafood generally gets a good rap.  It’s healthy, right?  Well, that depends on your perspective.  Yes, seafood, in general, is low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamins and minerals and essential oils like Omega 3.  Add in seaweed or kelp and you can supplement your meal with even more vitamins and minerals as well as iodine, which is necessary for proper thyroid function.  While the bounty of the sea may be good for your health, the opposite may be true for the health of the ocean ecosystem.  All nations must take drastic steps to curb the relentless pursuit of more and more seafood. It’s a finite resource that needs time to naturally restock – time that we, as a world community, are not allowing.  So what can we do as individuals, or more aptly put, small fish in a big sea?

Your Dollar Speaks Louder Than Words

The first step you can take to make an impact on overfishing is to choose not to buy certain species.  Two examples of popular oceanic species that have been severely overfished are bluefin tuna and orange roughy.  Bluefin tuna is perhaps the most well known “high end” sushi choice.  In January of this year, the first bluefin tuna of the season was sold at auction in Japan for just under $400,000!  The law of supply and demand hard at work.

Stone crab claws

Stone crab claws can regenerate after harvest

Orange roughy is on the other side of the spectrum.  These bottom dwelling fish remained out of the limelight until around the 1970′s.  In the US, roughy began to show up in local grocery stores in the 90′s as a popular low-priced white fish alternative.  Akin to a gold rush, orange roughy were netted in schools of thousands, which decimated their ability to reproduce.  In fact, so many were caught that many were dumped because the processors could not deal with the volume of catches.  Fertile fishing grounds turned into ghost towns within a few years – a classic “boom and bust” scenario.

Tips for Supporting Sustainable Seafood

  1. Carry a sustainable seafood guide when you go to restaurants and grocery stores.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium provides a pocket guide called Seafood Watch for regional seafood species and categorizes them as “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives” and “Avoid.” Download the Seafood Watch Pocket Guide here.
  2. Shop at grocery stores that select their seafood responsibly.  This year Safeway received the best recommendation from Greenpeace followed by Wegmans and Target, which tied for second.  It’s interesting to note that the seafood ranking article makes a reference to orange roughy as “one of the most vulnerable fish stocks on the planet” – a pretty powerful statement.  See how your grocery store ranked on the Supermarket Seafood Sustainability Scorecard.
  3. Purchase “traceable” fish.  If the store cannot tell you where and how your seafood was harvested, then you should choose not to support their business.  Ideally, you want to purchase “hook and line” catches.  Traditional “hook and line” fishing is more eco-friendly than other methods because there is little by-catch and if a species is caught accidentally, it may be released, hopefully unharmed.
  4. Eat locally caught fish and shellfish.  If you choose fish that are locally caught through sustainable methods, you support your community, sustainable fishing, and make a “consumer choice” statement to restaurants and grocery stores.  Sites like Walking Fish have links to seafood availability charts to find sustainable, local fish in North Carolina.  Farmed oysters are a great way to buy a delicious sustainable resource and direct your dollars to a local environmentally-friendly small business.

Close to Home

Speckled sea trout

Speckled sea trout caught sustainably

The impact of unsustainable fishing is not relegated to the open ocean or far away countries.  I have experienced the results of gill-netting in the sounds of North Carolina firsthand.  In the backwater salt creeks where I love to fish for trout and red fish, gill netters come in at night and clean out the populations of popular sport fish.  While they target the flounder and trout, many juvenile fish are killed when they sweep a fine mesh net through the creek, capturing everything in its path.  Fishing in these areas goes from plentiful to no fish for days after the netters come through.  This practice is currently legal in NC if you have a permit.  Gill netting as a method to harvest fish should be banned.  It destroys fish populations, which in turn hurts local fishing guides and recreational fishing not to mention killing or maiming any by-catch.  The gill netter reports (mandated by the NCDMF) actually have a requirement whereas gill netters must report how many turtles they catch and in what physical shape they were returned – proof that this method is irresponsible and dangerous to the welfare of our sounds and oceans.

In the end, it is up to you, the consumer, to make a decision to purchase sustainable seafood.  Demand to know where your food came from and what method was used to catch it.  Many eco-conscience chains go to lengths to state “product of USA”, but you must go a step further.  Tell the store or restaurant manager that you want to purchase sustainable, traceable fish and shellfish.  So far, it seems to be working (Target Commits to 100 Percent Sustainable, Traceable Fish by 2015).

Happy cooking,

Chef Ryan

This entry was posted in Cooking, Global Consciousness, Healthy Living, Nature, Nutrition and tagged , , , , , , , , , by Ryan Kalooky. Bookmark the permalink.
Ryan Kalooky

About Ryan Kalooky

Ryan was born in New Jersey and moved to North Carolina at an early age, where he took an interest in gardening and cooking. His experiences growing up in the family garden taught him many things, but the concept of seasonal cooking with ingredients sourced locally may be the best lesson he learned. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in Biology, he attended culinary school at New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Montpelier, Vermont. He has since gained experience in a variety of places, including a private executive dining room for a Fortune 500 company, an upscale Italian restaurant, a historic university hotel and a personal chef service. Today he runs his own private chef service and is available for catering, group cooking parties, dinners and private cooking lessons. His specialties come from his Mediterranean background and Italian influences growing up, a love of barbeque and smoked meats, as well as his culinary experiences in the South. When he’s not cooking or in the garden, Ryan can usually be found fishing, enjoying soccer or playing with his two dogs, Dempsey and Maya. He can be reached by email at rakalooky@gmail.com.

5 thoughts on “Choose Sustainable Seafood

  1. thanks for the education on seafood selection. I have contacted the North Carolina Dept of Agriculture about fish farming. There are some permits and inspections to perform but not too big of a deal. They are interested in the type of fish. Tilapia, for instance, is much more of a concern because it is an invasive species. One problem with fish farming is the loss of human knowledge in state agencies due to layoffs. There are private suppliers that sell fingerlings who travel the region (out of Florence, SC area iirc) who can stock a local fish farm with a variety of fish.

    • Awesome comment Greg! I’d like to learn more about fish farming. I’m sure there are pros and cons to consider before starting a major project such as this. Sean forwarded me an article about shrimp farming. If I had a choice, I’d probably try to farm crayfish/crawdads – delicious! The only fish I’ve seen being farmed in NC are trout. I’m sure there are other species out there, but you don’t hear too much about them. I’m going to research this a bit to learn more about inland fish farming in NC.

  2. If you’re talking about freshwater, catfish are easy to grow. I’m not much of a fan of eating them, but they would probably be excellent for aquaculture. Freshwater shrimp and prawns are definitely interesting. There’s info at the United States Freshwater Prawn Growers Association – http://www.freshwaterprawn.org. My vote would be for smoked trout though!

  3. Hi Chef Ryan! What are your thoughts about the sustainability of mussels? It seems like they are found locally in many places of the world. Also curious about clams, but don’t tell me if they aren’t sustainable…I can’t bear to think about giving those up!

    • Mussels are an excellent sustainable seafood choice. Most of the mussels available in the local markets are farmed (aquaculture). Blue mussels (“Prince Edward Island”or “PEI” are a popular type) are usually found on restaurant menus in the US. These cultivated bivalves are usually grown on ropes or mesh nets (“socks”) suspended from rafts. This method is “ocean friendly” in that there is no contact with the seafloor. Additionally, by suspending the shellfish in the water column, they have less grit/sand, grow faster, are less likely to suffer from diseases, and less likely to be eaten by natural predators, such as starfish, which search the rocky inter-tidal zones for a meal. Purchase mussels with confidence, as they are plentiful, sustainable, and delicious. It’s also important to know that they are a great source of iron, zinc vitamin C, and protein (http://www.aquaculturepei.com/healthy_nutritious_mussels.php)! As for clams, they too are farmed along the Eastern US. Unlike mussels, clams are grown on the seafloor which means that they may have grit/sand inside them. Some restaurants place cornmeal in with the live clams (in fresh water) for 15 minutes or so to encourage them to expel any residual grit. Mussels and clams are both excellent sustainable seafood choices! Make sure to always discard uncooked shellfish with cracked or open shells. If the shell is open, gently tap it with your finger or on the counter. If the bivalve does not close it’s shell, it means it is dead. These dead shellfish must be thrown out – don’t take any chances, as there may be a high risk of contracting a food borne illness if they are consumed. Thank you for your comment Melissa!

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