Environmentally Sound Choices Are Good For Both You and the Oceans.

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April 23, 2012

I haven’t always been a chef. I grew up on the Atlantic Coast in Virginia. My dad was a retired naval officer who pursued his passion for building huge catamarans and I spent my youth sailing with my family. On one particularly memorable trip we took an entire year and sailed throughout the Bimini Islands in the Bahamas. I remember we always had the biggest boat so ours was the one hosting parties and amazing meals. It was on these trips that I developed my love of cooking….and seafood.

So…what does that have to do with Sustainable Seafood? When I was floating through paradise with my dad, eating lobster and conch every day I didn't think, or care, about sustainability. It’s one thing to live in an environment where you can produce a daily catch for your own use or to share with your friends and family and I’m still not going to excuse myself from the table if my host serves Chilean Sea Bass as an entrée. But I might start a conversation about the sustainability of serving such a dish because the story becomes altogether different when we realize that entire species of fish and sea life are in danger.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 80 percent of fisheries are fully exploited, overfished, depleted, or recovering from depletion. When species are overfished or their habitats are destroyed, it can take decades for populations to recover – if they ever do. Choosing Sustainable Seafood helps derail that cycle. We should care because doing so lets us enjoy the bounty while helping to ensure that it will also be around for our grandchildren.

Oceans are huge. They cover most of the world so I’m told. It would seem, at first glance, that there would be a never-ending, abundant supply of whatever seafood we had a taste for, and we’d never run short. But there are only so many fish in the sea and thanks to poor fisheries management, an increasing world population and even cyclical food fads we’re experiencing a serious decline in the numbers of fish and other sea life.

What Is Sustainable Seafood anyway? Without getting into the often complicated and more often political details, the basics of Sustainable Seafood are actually pretty simple. Seafood is sustainable when:

  • Species populations are either naturally abundant or are maintained through regulation and responsible practices
  • Fishing and harvesting methods don’t harm natural habitats, other species, or the environment in general

We can all make better choices as Chefs and wise consumers. It’s not that hard. You don’t have to be on an activist ‘watch list’ to make a difference. You just have to care. Here are some things to think about when you’re thinking sustainability;

This isn’t something you have to do on your own. Check the charts. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program maintains up-to-date, color-coded charts and handy Pocket Guides listing seafood choices based on species population, fishing and farming practices, health concerns, and more. They’ll help you determine if the seafood you want to buy a is a Best Choice, a Good Alternative, or one you should Avoid. You can actually download a Pocket Guide on The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website that provides a way to keep sustainability information at hand when dining out, shopping or traveling. You can also download a free Seafood Watch application for your iPhone or mobile device.

Pick from the bottom of the barrel. Species that are lower on the food chain like catfish, clams, mussels, or Arctic char require fewer resources and can be a healthier choice than those large, sexy. predatory species like swordfish, tuna or shark which often have higher mercury levels.

Choose a fast growing species like tilapia, mahimahi or barramundi. They reproduce and mature more quickly slow-growing species like grouper, orange roughy or Chilean Sea Bass that can take up to 30 years to reach maturity.

Insist upon and support responsible practices by making informed decisions about where your seafood comes from. It’s just as important to know how it was caught or harvested as it is to choose the right type of seafood. Irresponsible fishing methods can kill endangered species and destroy breeding grounds. Check out your restaurants and grocery stores too.

Seafood products are certified as sustainable by organizations with strict standards like theMarine Stewardship Council and Friends of the Sea. Look for their logos and “seals of approval”. I frequent my local fish vendor whenever I can and he is one of my best sources for information on sustainability. He’s proud of his stock and always willing to answer questions. If he wasn’t I wouldn’t shop there.

If you’re buying from your local grocery store, read the labels and ask questions. Labels usually show country of origin, whether the seafood was wild-caught or farm-raised and even how they were caught.

Many restaurants have adopted policies about sustainability of all kinds. They’re serving more locally available seafood and showing responsiveness to the growing consumer awareness.

Cooking with Sustainable Seafood is all about raising your level of awareness and making informed choices. I've recently developed recipes using products from Bar Harbor Foods...a company with an incredible passion for championing sustainable practices. I don't have to use their products...but I choose to. They're extremely high quality and, after discovering their high sustainability quotient I'm even more thrilled to offer recipes using products from a company with such a great social conscience.

Here are a couple of my favorite Sustainable Seafood recipes to help celebrate Earth Day 2012:

Bar Harbor Lobster BLT. Made with a moist lobster patty, premium bacon and dill havarti cheese on a fresh toasted kaiser roll my Bar Harbor Lobster BLT provides an incredible gourmet twist...and taste...the next time you want to really impress at lunch. Bar Harbor Foods prides themselves on providing the highest quality canned seafoods. They hand sort every mussel, clam and lobster used in their products and subscribe to a strong sustainability culture.

The lobster used in this recipe is Certified Maine lobster, supplied to them by one of the most sustainable and carefully managed fisheries in the world. They claim that it's as close to "fresh off the boat" as you can get without being there and I agree!

North Coast Clam Chowder

My North Coast Clam Chowder is reminiscent of the chowder my mom used to make when I was a young girl. My dad built boats, big boats...and we spent a lot of time sailing the inner coastal waterways of the East Coast. Dad would captain and mom, my sister and I (when I was old enough) would crew and run the galley. A lot of my favorite recipes come from my mom's beat up old card file on my kitchen shelf.


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