The other day a friend told me she had stopped eating seafood, since it wasn't a "sustainable" choice. I replied by mentioning that many species were actually well managed and the best thing to do was to choose the right ones -- that way you help to shift the market a bit in the right direction.
As Barton Seaver writes in his new cookbook, For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking:
So why eat seafood at all, you might ask? Because if we don't, then we will lose a vital and necessary part of our diet. We would put even more hardworking communities out of work. We would lose control over the fisheries that we do have a chance to manage well. We would lose our chance to encourage the restoration of ecosystms. The compelling narrative of conservation is a story of responsible consumption.
My only quibble there might be with the word, "necessary." But for those who do choose to eat fish, Seaver is right. There are ample resources, such as Seafood Watch's wallet card and iPhone and Android apps, to help you make the right choices. Valuable books like Seaver's show in great detail just how many wonderful dishes can be made with sustainable fish.
It's not a hard sell. In Washington, I organized a sustainable seafood buying club for 17 families in which we buy fish direct from fishermen. The only requirement is that the fish must be sustainable. It's a bit of work arranging shipments but I've found the quality unmatched, and the price very competitive. (Next up, oysters, I think from the mid-Atlantic region).
While these choices may be confusing to the average consumer, supermarkets in the US and aboard are offering better choices and removing those species that are overfished or in decline. (Whole Foods even tags their fish as best, good, and avoid, based on the health of the fishery).
Finally, there are notable events such as Monterey Bay Aquarium's Cooking for Solutions, held annually, which draws thousands to cooking demos, talks, and an evening sampling of sustainable fish at a gala fundraiser. I highly recommend it.
Not to be outdone, though, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington held a smaller and more intimate affair just last night focusing on The Gulf and its Seafood: One Year Later. Many area chefs were on hand, including Seaver with a salted cod sampler (Atlantic cod was recently upgraded to a "good alternative"), Hank's Oyster Bar, with its superlative lobster roll (yes, lobster is in ample supply and sustainable), and many others with dozens of creative concoctions, including those made with Gulf seafood which has been deemed safe following the Big Spill. It's the stealth seafood event in Washington and is going on my calendar next year as well. My only quibble -- a day-long companion oceans conference would be a fantastic resource for writers and journalists like me, but I only found out about it after the fact.
But here's the main thing. If you like seafood, it is not difficult to make a sustainable choice. It may even be staring right at you in the supermarket: like whole rainbow trout, for example. I like to grill this fish, maybe three minutes a side, over a medium fire. If you have doubts about when it's done, gently poke it open with a knife -- the fish should be starting to flake and turning white. Don't overcook it! Squeeze a bit of lemon on it when it's done. Sprinkle it with salt. You can do a lot of fancier things, but with seafood I find fast and easy is often the best.
- Samuel Fromartz