By Chef Bryan Szeliga, April 2011
Eating seafood brings to mind many special memories, a few of my fondest having been provided by Chefs Barbara Lynch, Eric Ripert, Vitaly Paley, and Daniel Humm and one very special meal at La Mandrágora in Tarifa, Spain. The flavors of each of these meals still dance on my tongue when I think of tasting the lobster roll, the hiramasa, the spot prawn, the Arctic char and the squid.
At the dinner table I love the sexy look of a superbly seared halibut with the contrasting colors of golden brown and ivory white flesh. Also pleasing to the eye is the grilled Bristol Bay sockeye salmon with perfect black hash marks on the ruby pink fillet.
When I landed my first cooking job at a seafood restaurant in Durango, Colorado in 1994, a delivery of “fresh” fish would arrive at the back door of the kitchen every day of the week except Sunday.
Mako, swordfish, grouper, orange roughy, Patagonian toothfish (a.k.a. Chilean seabass), and red snapper were all featured on the restaurant's menu making it possible for me to experience a bounty of seafood as I prepped, cooked, and tasted them on a daily basis.
Today, due to the current environmental conditions and over-fishing, these species have become depressed wild populations, making them non-sustainable seafood choices. Because of this, people, including myself, might never taste any of these fish again.
Currently the seafood I cook and eat is much different than it was just fifteen years ago. Because of the current situation of decreased wild seafood stocks, I have begun to develop a philosophy of limiting the amount of wild fin fish I eat and cook. This is not an ideal situation; however, I am convinced that eating wild seafood only is not a sustainable choice.
I believe the best way to responsibly consume seafood is by placing an emphasis on shellfish, aquatic plants, and Seafood Watch certified farm-raised fin fish such as trout and limiting wild fin fish to a small percentage of overall consumption.
To fully grasp sustainable seafood, I believe it is important to evaluate and understand what we currently consume. In short, to know where we are going, we must know where we currently stand.
In the past fifty years worldwide seafood consumption has increased by 13 pounds per capita which is based on the total seafood consumed in pounds divided by the total population of that country. Therefore, in 1960 each person in the world ate an average of 21 pounds of seafood per year, while in 2008 (the latest data released) that average jumped to 34 pounds of seafood per year with America, Japan, and China consuming the most seafood based on total population and per capita consumption. However, in 2009 Americans consumed just below 16 pounds of seafood per capita, whereas Japan consumed about 130 pounds per capita, and China consumed about 57 pounds per capita.
Over 90 percent of America's seafood consumption comes from just ten species of fish, as shown in the graph below. These top ten fish comprised 14.3 pounds of the total 15.8 pounds of seafood consumed per capita in 2009 by Americans (the latest data released).
List of America's Top 10 Consumed Seafoods for 2009
Species Consumption Weight Per Capita
1 Shrimp 4 # 1 oz
2 Canned Tuna 2 # 8 oz
3 Salmon 2 # 6 oz
4 Pollock 1 # 8 oz
5 Tiliapia 1 # 3 oz
6 Catfish 0 # 14 oz
7 Crab 0 # 10 oz
8 Cod 0 # 7 oz
9 Clams 0 # 7 oz
10 Pangasius (Swai) 0 # 6 oz
Top 10 Species 2009 14.3 Pounds
Total All Species 2009 15.8 Pounds
Choosing responsibly sourced seafood that meets minimum MSC and/or Seafood Watch benchmarks helps to assure that future generations will have the opportunity to eat seafood. Every time you eat responsibly sourced seafood you are helping to preserve the oceans for future generations.
I will be writing more articles here at CHEFnews.com covering a broad range of topics featuring in-depth information on specific species, cooking techniques, farm vs. wild, and other sustainable seafood related issues.
Fishmonger Question: Is the catfish farmed in a polyculture environment?
Most farm-raised catfish is created in a monoculture (meaning only catfish are raised in the pod). In a monoculture as the phytoplankton (algae) increases, chemicals are used to suppress the growth, and then gas powered aerators must be used to replace the oxygen that was created by the algae bloom. To decrease the carbon footprint and for the most sustainable catfish farming practices a polyculture method is preferred.
Recipe: Blackened Catfish Po'boy
Fact: In 2010 USDA announced that Americans should consume more seafood!
Currently Americans consume about 5 ounces per week or 16 pounds a year. The USDA says 8 to 12 ounces per week is now recommended. By consuming 12 ounces per week that would equate to 39 pounds of seafood per year. In comparing seafood consumption to other protein consumption, Americans currently eat 75 pounds of poultry, 60 pounds of beef, 46 pounds of pork, and nearly 175 fresh eggs (almost 19 pounds) per capita annually.
With only 5 oz currently being consumed per week our oceans are being over fished! If we consume 12 oz per week what does that mean to the state of seafood in the oceans?
Peter Redmond from Walmart received the 2007 Seafood Champion Award fom Seafood Choices Alliance for helping move Walmart to sell only MSC certified sustainable seafood. I believe by fostering and applauding the positive behavior of big companies we can effect change for the better.
The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) is the flagship publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.
U.S. Seafood Consumption Declines Slightly in 2009, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Table 212. Per Capita Consumption of Major Food Commodities: 1980-2007, U.S. Census Bureau.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, USDA, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
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.