By Chef Bryan Szeliga, January 2011
As a chef, I look beyond conventional benchmarks to provide the most responsible seafood possible to my customers. Commercial fishermen supply the products while I juggle to meet the demands of my customers. Sport fly-fishing is my hobby and my core values are in line with many large seafood conservation organizations. These factors create a unique lens through which I view seafood.
Worldwide annual seafood consumption per person has increased from about 22 pounds in 1960 to over 36 pounds in 2005.(1) In the same timeframe, our human population has doubled.
The corresponding result is that currently over 80% of our seafood stocks are over-exploited. Science based studies show that the UK trawler fleet has to work seventeen times harder to catch the same amount of fish today as it did in 1889.(2) There are countless stories like these worldwide.
5 Things to Consider When Selecting Seafood:
1. Social Impact - Are there any human rights or social injustices associated with specific seafood?
2. Economic Impact - Are fishermen being paid a fair price for their products and what does the fishery mean to communities?
3. Environmental Impact – What are the fishing techniques used to harvest fish? Are any of the fish threatened or endangered? What are the aquaculture conditions? Is there disease, parasites, or lice present, etc.?
4. Consumer Health - Are there any marine pollutants or antibiotics present? Is the product traceable?
5. Animal Welfare - What are the harvest methods? Are they humane? Are there discards? What are the overall processing techniques?
How is a consumer to know which seafood is sustainable? What are the guidelines a consumer can follow to make an environmentally responsible purchase?
A minimum benchmark for consumers is to select seafood that is listed as “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program. For wild caught seafood, confirm with your fish market that the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certifies the specific fishery as sustainable.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program labels species by color: Best Choice, Good Alternative, and Avoid. For farm-raised fish and general species information, this program is a very creditable reference. Seafood Watch identifies Pacific halibut as a Best Choice, which would include wild caught Oregon and British Columbia halibut although these fisheries are not MSC certified sustainable.
The Seafood Watch program has added an additional category called The Super Green list. This list identifies seafood that is good for human health and does not harm the oceans. The Super Green list highlights products that are currently on the Seafood Watch Best Choice list, are low in environmental contaminants and are good sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
The Marine Stewardship Council currently sets the highest credible standards on sustainable fishing practices, labeling, and traceability for wild caught fish. The MSC does certify halibut from the Bering Sea, Alaska, & Washington as sustainable fisheries.
It is important to know that the MSC does not have a sustainable certification process for aquaculture/farm-raised fish. The MSC does not certify any oysters as sustainable because the bulk of oysters are farm-raised. Nearly all Pacific and Atlantic oysters are responsibly farmed, sustainable, and listed on Seafood Watch as Best Choice.
Simply put, the difference is that the MSC certifies very specific fisheries while Seafood Watch labels specific species. As you can see there are discrepancies, which can create misunderstandings of what is sustainable and what is not sustainable. In future articles I will continue to dig deeper into these discrepancies.
For the general consumer, a minimum benchmark is to select MSC certified or Seafood Watch Best Choice seafood. Seventy percent of the seafood consumed in America is at restaurants. Therefore, it is critical that consumers hold chefs accountable by asking the question, "Where is this seafood from and is it sustainable?" Ask this question at your fish market as well. By doing so you have completed the first step in fostering sustainable seafood!
"Where are these oysters from? Do you know the name of the farmer or owner of the company?"
I believe it is important to shorten the food supply chain and assure traceability of products. When I know my fisherman/farmer, I can assure traceability, sustainability, and a quality product!
Fact: One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. Only 1% of the Chesapeake Bay's historic oyster population exists today. Historic populations filtered the bay’s volume of water every seven days! (3)
Recipes: Hangtown Fry - Chef Method
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC maintains standards for wild caught fisheries and seafood traceability for credible certification and eco-labeling programs.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. This is a great resource to learn about specific issues and sustainable seafood recommendations. The following are the guidelines from Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide:
Best Choice: Seafood in this category is abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.
Good Alternative: These items are an option, but there are concerns with how they're caught or farmed or with the health of their habitat due to other human impacts.
Avoid: Take a pass on these items for now. They are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.
The Super Green list: This list identifies seafood that is good for human health and does not harm the oceans. They fall under the Best Choice category.
Chef Bryan Szeliga, an avid fly fisherman and salmon conservationist is currently devoting his time and energy to promote a better understanding of sustainable seafood.