Sustainable Seafood 101: How to Order, Buy, and Cook Responsibly Sourced Seafood

It’s hard to fathom that we are eating our way through the ocean. For decades we’ve been told fish is the healthy choice and apparently, we’ve heeded the advice — at the expense of the world’s seafood supply. Unfortunately, many of our favorite types of fish have been overfished to the brink of extinction. But, here’s the good news: You can still enjoy the heart-healthy, good-for-your-brain, oh-so-delicious protein responsibly by choosing the right seafood — types that have been sustainably sourced — even at your favorite restaurant or fish monger. Not sure where to start? Here’s what you need to know about sustainable seafood, and how to make sure you’re making the right choices.

Not All Fish are Created Equal — How to Make the Right Choice

All too often the onus is on the consumer to find the best sustainable options, which is challenging at best. “It’s hard for us as consumers to get engaged in what we can’t see,” says Jennifer Bushman, director of sustainability for Pacific Catch, referring to the fact that consumers aren’t always aware of the impact that these harmful fishing practices have on the world’s oceans. “Currently 90 percent of the world’s consumable seafood is depleted, due to overfishing and trolling,” Bushman says. She points out that if consumers make concerted efforts to vary the kind of seafood they eat and stick to responsibly farmed or caught seafood, then fish in the wild will have a chance to replenish themselves.

Sustainable Seafood: Scoma's Crabs
Scoma’s Crabs

Dining Out

How does one know which fish to order when eating out? First, choose a restaurant that is committed to following sustainable seafood guidelines such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch or the James Beard Smart Catch program. The restaurants that follow the guidelines of these programs often say so on their websites and menus or they post a certification somewhere inside the establishment. Here are seven excellent restaurants in the Bay Area that are all committed to dishing up sustainable seafood. Second, Seafood Watch offers an app and a printable consumer guide to ocean-friendly seafood. (We recommend the app, as the information is more thorough and up to date that what’s found in the printed guide.) Third, ask. Knowledgeable wait staff can offer insight, or they can ask the kitchen or management about the seafood’s source if it’s not already indicated on the menu.

Preparing Sustainable Seafood at Home

The USDA recommends that every American eat at least eight ounces of fish or shellfish per week. Most of us don’t come anywhere close to that and dining out isn’t always an option because of time and expense.

Fortunately, preparing seafood at home is easier than it might seem, according to Matthew Dolan, executive chef at 25 Lusk in San Francisco and the author of Simply Fish: 75 Modern and Delicious Recipes for Sustainable Seafood. In his forward, Dolan empathizes, “it’s clear that fish is a healthier source of protein … (and) if we could all choose a fish option over a meat option once a week, we would be able to reduce the methane emission created by the cattle and beef industry.” His cookbook offers a wide variety of recipes designed to accomplish that goal, ranging from grilled halibut to poached sole and seared scallops. Need more dinner ideas? Try these seven simple, satisfying seafood recipes.

Sustainable Seafood: Scoma's Fishermen
Scoma’s Fishermen / © 2016, Marc Fiorito, Gamma Nine Photography

“Farmed” Doesn’t Mean “Bad”

When it comes to buying (and ordering) sustainable seafood to prepare, one of the biggest surprises is that farmed is not necessarily a dirty word; there are a number of cases in which farmed fish is much better for the environment than wild-caught. Bushman points out that there are many responsible “water farmers” that grow fish responsibly and populate the industry with seafood that doesn’t impact the ocean.

Where to Shop

Whole Foods has one of the best sustainable seafood programs of any grocery store, with a staff that has been trained to offer guidance to shoppers. Bushman recommends a product called Love the Wild, which offers seafood meal kits to be prepared at home and is sold at Whole Foods and Safeway. She also likes Verlasso salmon, which is farmed in Patagonia and endorsed by Seafood Watch. It is sold at fish markets in South San Francisco and Oakland as well as at Nugget Markets. If you have time to visit a fish market, check out these local recommendations; Fish restaurant in Marin also offers a fish market carrying locally caught salmon, cod, albacore tuna and more. For those short on time or patience, try a seafood delivery service such as FreshCatch that does all the legwork for you. Lastly, CUESA offers a seasonal seafood chart with all the freshest picks.

Donna Berry Glass is the editor of the Bay Area Better Letter, and the online editor at Marin Magazine. When she’s not writing and editing, she enjoys spending time with her family exploring the natural beauty of Marin County, snuggling with her Cavalier King Charles and tackling her never-ending list of DIY home and garden projects. Donna is a supporter of the California Academy of Sciences, a world class science museum and research institution, and SF CASA, which provides court-appointed advocates for foster youth.

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