While relaying food news on the Alton Browncast (which, eaters, is wonderful), our favorite bow-tied Food Network host brought up sustainable seafood. Brown loves motorcycles and cheese dots, but he’s also a big proponent of seafood caught sustainably. In my time in Charleston, it’s an unavoidable topic, as just about every restaurant boasts the guidelines it follows in finding your fish. In the grocery store, I tend to pay better attention to free cookies, as “sustainable seafood” is a bit abstract. Does “sustainable” fit in with “natural” or “organic,” words that food marketers exploit to sell more? Does “sustainable” actually mean anything?
As it turns out, fish and seafood with a “sustainable” label actually follow a good bit of guidelines. There’s a sea (sorry, I know) of information on what you and I as shoppers can be doing to make this word mean something. Like a culinary Hermione Granger, I started by research. I found this recent report from Greenpeace pretty cool. I never thought I’d use “Greenpeace” and “cool” in the same sentence, as I’ve usually associated the name with people hovering on the street with clipboards, but this will definitely help my shopping out more.
Here’s their report card. Note: both Publix and Bi-Lo did not voluntarily release their scores. That’s okay because Publix still has the nicest grocery store employees. Like ever.
Wal-Mart has changed around some of its canned tuna products, reflecting more pole-and-line-caught (less mass-caught) tuna. I really wanted to get nerdy about the specifics of tuna fishing, and there’s a specific page in the report that outlines different methods. Most commercial canned tuna is caught using fish aggregating devices, or FADs (not another acronym!). These catch a lot of fish, but these also catch a lot of other stuff, too.
Harris Teeter, one of my favorite retailer/free cookie joints, is commended for its transparency. When it comes to describing supply chain and practices, Harris Teeter actually leads the list, which makes them even more awesome. It’ll even tell you about the mercury levels. GP recommends that the retailer cut down its less sustainable species, including Chilean Sea Bass, which isn’t really sea bass at all.
Here’s something to rock your boat: only 2% of imported seafood is inspected, putting the abstract “local” seafood into a more respectable light. In addition to where to shop, what to shop also bears a difference. Seafood Watch’s Southeastern Guide prescribes farmed scallops, Ecuador or US-caught tilapia, and Pacific Halibut among others. It suggests avoiding imported shrimp, Red Snapper, or farmed Atlantic Salmon, as these are overfished or sketchy species.
For more information, here’s the full Greenpeace report. If anything, flip through it for some bang-a-rang cartoons. Also, the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch also has a fantastic overview of seafood issues and guidelines.