What do I have in common with top chefs Alton Brown, Rick Bayless, John Ash and Barton Seaver? (Hint: it is not cooking skill.) As of today, neither they nor I will eat or serve Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, monkfish, shark or dozens of other fish.
Thirty of the country’s most prominent chefs recently signed the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch pledge not to serve anything on the red list of fish to “Avoid.” (Fish whose numbers have dwindled to the point that if we keep eating them at the rate we have, they may disappear altogether.) This doesn’t mean we will stop eating fish altogether, we’ll just find out how to choose the most sustainable seafood with EatingWell’s Green Choices Seafood Buyer’s Guide and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guides before we shop.
Two of the fish on the list happen to be America’s favorites: salmon and shrimp. But there’s some good news: it’s just farmed or “Atlantic” salmon that’s verboten and imported shrimp. Wild salmon from Alaska is actually a good choice, as you will read in a great story EatingWell did. The Wild Salmon Debate looks at how farmed salmon is threatening wild salmon’s existence. And many American shrimp are OK too.
So what’s left to eat? The answer is not so simple.
Why all the fuss over fish? “Three hundred years ago, there were so many passenger pigeons in the U.S. that you literally couldn’t see the sun when they migrated and buffalo covered the great plains,” says marine biologist and MacArthur Fellow Carl Safina of the Blue Ocean Institute. “We hunted the passenger pigeons to extinction and nearly killed all the buffalo and now we are about to do the same with fish.” In fact, the number of bluefin tuna, so prized for sushi that one fish can fetch $80,000 at the Japanese fish markets, has become so depleted that the U.S. announced yesterday that it would support a total ban on trade in the fish.
Will the current chef’s ban work? I remember about 10 years ago when Rick Moonen and Seafood Watch asked us to stop eating swordfish. I loved swordfish but after hearing this and reading Carl Safina’s book Song for the Blue Ocean, I swore off it. Today, it is rebounding. In 10 years, it may even be back on the menu.
It makes sense to swear off a few fish today so our children and our oceans will have them tomorrow.