Not long ago, we thought our seafood supply was endless — that there were plenty of fish in the sea.
Today more people realize this may not be the case. And as awareness increases, we’re seeing more chefs, restaurateurs and consumers paying attention to the sustainability of seafood offered on menus.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch this year celebrates 16 years of working to get restaurant businesses, producers, farmers and fishermen to take a more environmentally sound approach to raising, catching and serving seafood. We’re making headway. Sustainable seafood is becoming an important consideration for businesses, even in far-off parts of the world.
As sustainability of our seafood supply captures more attention, Consumers and restaurateurs alike are more interested in learning about the fish they buy, cook and consume. They want to know where it’s from, how it’s sourced, raised or caught, if it’s endangered and how it affects the eco-system.
We’re seeing some significant changes as a result. Many fine-dining chefs promote sustainable seafood on their menus. Foodservice operators like Aramark and Compass Group have revamped their purchasing to reflect a new approach to seafood sustainability. Many quickservice and fast-casual chains are sourcing seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which recognizes and rewards sustainable fishing practices.
Still, work remains. We’d like to see more chefs and restaurateurs help guests understand that salmon, shrimp, tuna and white fish are not the only fish in the sea. Some of the more populous varieties – like cod, mahi mahi or even the more obscure dogfish — also are good options. When restaurateurs share this kind of information, guests find it less daunting to start ordering these other fish. They can use our seafood suggestions to explain to guests which fish are considered sustainably safe to serve.
How can you learn more about sustainable seafood? Here are some ideas:
Check out Seafood Watch’s monthly updates. Our goal is to make it easier for you to keep up with changes.
Meet your fish farmers and fishermen. Get to know who is producing product in your region.
Educate yourself about fish you’ve never heard of. Pay attention to what the media is reporting on to learn about varieties that may be a great fit for your menu.
Talk to your purveyors. The best way to learn is to ask them the right questions about each type of seafood you sell . Find out the fish’s complete name (including its Latin species name), how it’s caught or farmed, and its place of origin.
Chefs seeking a better food system must push to make change happen. When it comes to food, our sustainability focus has largely been on land-based foods, but seafood is gaining traction. As that happens, we’re starting to see improvements in our ocean quality. Our fish populations are starting to grow again.
Let’s keep pulling in the same direction so the progress continues.
Sheila Bowman is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch manager of culinary and strategic initiatives