I loved Barton Seaver’s soon-to-be released sustainable seafood cookbook, For Cod and Country, but still had some questions about how to find and buy sustainably harvested seafood, and trust that I’m getting what I paid for. So I asked Barton what he does. Here are five on-the-ground suggestions for ocean-savvy seafood consumption, straight from the horse’s mouth:
- Do your homework: It’s my belief that sustainable seafood is pretty simple. Unsustainable seafood is exceptionally complicated. With green-listed seafood, it’s a good idea to support those fisheries since many of those species represent the best opportunities we have available to us. Also, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) does a really good job of labeling sustainable fisheries. No label doesn’t mean it’s not sustainable, but MSC certification includes a rigorous chain of information that ensures you’re getting what’s on the label.
- Eat smaller fish: We have shifted our preferences away from herring, clams oyster, mussels, anchovies and toward the bigger fish. But smaller fish are a much more efficient form of protein. If sardines eat ten pounds of phytoplankton, a mackerel eats ten pounds of sardines, and a tuna eats ten pounds of mackerel. So eating tuna is like eating one hundred pounds of sardines.
- Just ask: You might not find sardines or anchovies at the store, but you can ask for them. They’re available. The fish market can get them. They’re just not going to bring in a highly perishable item without a guaranteed buyer for it. But if you ask a good fishmonger, they can get it for you.
- Think inside the can: Cans of sardines, cans of pink salmon, these are available in every grocery store and Walmart in the country. That’s a really great option we do have available to us.
- Check the freezer: The frozen food aisle is one of my favorite places to do my shopping. Many people have a negative association with frozen food as a cheap, tasteless last resort. But technology has improved dramatically with micro-misting and flash deep-freezing. So you’re getting a pristine quality product for less money. There’s also a lot of waste in the fresh seafood market because fish is so perishable. So buying frozen fish reduces the potential for waste, and also the need for rapidly shipping foods around the country. It allows food to move at a more environmentally friendly pace.
- Buy local: The other option is buying directly from fishermen, and that’s increasingly an option for consumers. Not only are you sure of what you’re getting, but you’re making each fish worth more by cutting out the middle man. And that’s a great step. But local seafood or direct-from-source seafood can mask the sustainability question. Just because you know the guy who caught your fish doesn’t mean it’s sustainable seafood. You still have to do your homework.