Sustainable seafood has been a hot topic since the early 90’s when the sustainable seafood movement began. It is especially important to support this movement now as our oceans are still being exploited at an alarmingly high rate and extinction is threatening many species of marine life.
All of the seafood we offer at Urban Plates is sustainably sourced. We offer a combination of wild caught and farm raised options.
So, what can we do to help support the sustainable seafood movement? This question can be overwhelming at times and the answers confusing, especially when consuming fish in restaurants. Urban Plates is committed to supporting sustainability in our restaurants and our ingredient sourcing is one of our top priorities to ensure we are upholding this standard. We have created a set of criteria that all our seafood must meet to be served in our restaurants. In creating these criteria, we had to spend time researching what sustainable seafood means and how best to source product. Here are some tools on how to navigate making the best choice for consuming sustainable seafood in order to preserve and improve the ocean, marine-life and fisheries.
What does sustainable seafood mean?
Sustainable seafood is either caught or farmed (aquaculture) in ways that consider the long-term vitality of the species being harvested and the social impacts. Sustainably sourced seafood minimizes the environmental impact on the ocean and ocean wildlife, prevents overfishing, identifies and protects habitats and takes into consideration the social and economic impacts on communities from which seafood is sourced.
How can we support sustainably sourced seafood?
Identifying the source is a great first step. How and where the seafood was caught or how it was farmed will help you avoid consuming seafood that is not sustainable. Asking questions tells the restaurant, store or company that customers care about how their seafood is sourced. If the source is unknown then the safest option is to avoid purchasing there. Ideally this will spark a bigger conversation and help push the company in a direction to better understand where their products come from. Businesses in the community play a crucial role in ocean conservation and they listen to you, their customer. Asking for sustainable seafood will start the process of making a difference.
The next step is to educate yourself on the best choices that promote sustainability. There are organizations around the world that are dedicated to studying and promoting sustainable fisheries and they have made seafood guides available. Choosing a guide that is based on science is important. These are some great options: Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, the Safina Center at Stony Brook University and Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector.
Many of these guides are available on mobile apps so you can easily check the guide based on the answer to your question of where the seafood is from and how it was caught or farmed. The guides will give you an idea of if the product is a best choice, good alternative or not recommended. This makes the decision easier and helps you weed out places that aren’t supporting sustainably sourced seafood.
Another thing to consider is how far your seafood traveled and what type of carbon footprint that has. When you buy local seafood with sustainable methods the carbon footprint is significantly reduced. Local seafood also has the added benefit of supporting local businesses.
Trying new species of seafood or less popularized varieties helps relieve overfishing of species that are at risk. This is also a great opportunity to expand your palate and discover new favorites and possibly learn some new cooking techniques.
Aquaculture has gained momentum in recent years and the Monterey Bay Aquarium predicts the majority of fish we eat in the next decade will be farm raised, not wild. I often get the question: “Isn’t wild caught seafood better than farm raised seafood?”
The answer is that both wild caught and farm raised seafood have their pros and cons.
Fishermen use a wide range of gear and every type has its own affect on the ocean. As a consumer you can make a difference by choosing to purchase seafood that is caught using a method that has the minimal impact on the environment. Like wild caught seafood, farm-raised seafood has many farming systems and each has its own distinct environmental footprint. By choosing seafood that is farmed using the better production systems you can play a positive role in reducing the potential negative impact of aquaculture.
The next comment or question I often hear is: “if it’s not wild caught it doesn’t taste good.” This is a very subjective matter since everyone’s taste buds are unique. There is no right or wrong on this topic, but I will say that not all species are available year-round. So, if you really want wild caught salmon out of season for example it will likely be frozen, which does have an affect on the flavor and texture. Farm raised salmon, as an example, can be harvested year-round, has a consistent flavor profile and doesn’t have to be frozen.
In an effort to reduce overfishing of wild salmon we chose to source a sustainably farm raised salmon as a good alternative to wild caught salmon that is only available fresh during a short season. Our north Atlantic salmon is raised in the Pacific Ocean in low density marine net pens. We have taken our sourcing even further by ensuring our salmon is certified by Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) with a 4-star rating, which both ensure that the salmon is being farmed safely, sustainably and responsibly. This also means the farming practices have less of an impact on the surrounding eco-system and the fish have a better environment. Additionally, this type of aquaculture has good alterative rating from The Monterey Bay Aquarium. Our salmon is fresh, never frozen, never given steroids or added hormones.
We offer a hand- line wild caught ahi tuna from Indonesia and the Western Pacific Ocean. It is Fair Trade Certified, in the process of being MSC certified sustainable and has a “Best Choice” rating from the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch. It is never treated with dyes which alter the color. Our purveyor has even taken the extra step of collaborating on a program called The Fishing & Living TM. This program promotes sustainable fisheries and enhanced living conditions for fishing communities through improved fishing practices, education promotions, and donations.
We take great pride in all of our menu offerings and the ingredients we source. I will be delving into other ingredients in future blogs, but you can expect the same high level of criteria and standards that we use with our seafood sourcing to be applied to all of our ingredients. This is part of our commitment to offer you wholesome, balanced, healthy food made from scratch using the best quality ingredients at an honest value.
I hope this blog has given you some easy-to-use information that can help you navigate sustainably sourced seafood and if you have any questions I would be happy to help!