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Louisa Shafia

Can the seafood I eat help save the planet???

With summer just around the corner, fishing season will soon be in full swing and delicious fresh fish dishes will be back on the menu. It’s the perfect time to think about how to choose the best seafood for yourself and your family. We know from nutrition experts that fish are a good source of low-fat protein, and they boast omega-3 fatty acids that are great for heart health. Here and around the world, people are eating fish at record high levels.

In the last few years, however, deciding which types of fish to buy has become a complicated process. News reports tell us that some of our favorite fish choices, such as tuna, are often full of mercury. Others, including salmon, are being increasingly over-fished or farmed in crowded tanks from which viral diseases spread to wild fish populations. Even more disturbingly, a 2006 study by top scientists predicts that if current fishing practices continue, all salt-water fish and seafood populations will literally disappear by 2048.

This tragic loss wouldn’t simply affect our food supply-sea creatures also filter toxins from the ocean, protect shorelines, and help control destructive algae blooms. Fortunately, there are many ways to continue to enjoy fish while helping to avoid such a scenario.

Choose Fish Responsibly

Many countries, and individual fisheries, work hard to catch or farm fish in ways that help to preserve healthy oceans and promote thriving fish populations. We consumers can have a huge effect on the fishing industry by buying seafood caught and raised according to these sustainable guidelines. Below are a few easy tips for making eco-friendly seafood choices:

  • Consult online lists of eco-best and eco-worst fish. Two sources I use are:
  1. the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector: http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=1521
  2. and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_factsheet.aspx

These sites even both have pocket sushi guides!

Both sites provide lists that grade fish on how responsibly they are caught or farmed, as well as information on their toxin levels, so you can regulate your intake of high mercury fish. There’s also information on where and how each fish is brought to market, as well as recipes to help with preparing unfamiliar types of fish.

  • Be experimental! Try cooking with new kinds of fish that have a high eco-friendly rating, or if you’re at a restaurant and see a fish on the menu that you don’t recognize, ask the waiter for a description and try ordering it. The idea is to get away from repeatedly choosing over fished and irresponsibly farmed species, like tuna and salmon. There is usually a sustainable alternative to your favorite endangered fish, with a similar texture and flavor. For example, try Pacific halibut instead of white hake; pole-caught Mahi Mahi from the U.S. in place of snapper; or U.S.-caught Stone crab or Dungeness crab in place of skate.
  • Be vocal! At your local fish purveyor and at restaurants, ask where your fish came from, how it was caught, or if it was farmed, as sustainability can vary wildly from one place to another. Go to restaurants with your list of eco-friendly fish in hand and refer to it when you read the menu. Restaurants and purveyors should be able to tell you where their fish is from, so you can make thoughtful purchases. You can help to change the marketplace by speaking up!

Consider Your Eating Habits

Another way to help protect healthy oceans and fish populations is simply to eat less fish, perhaps just once a week. Here are a few delicious ideas for helping you cut back.

  • Try using fish more as an element of dishes, rather than always having it take the starring role. A few examples could include broiled mackerel tossed with escarole and pasta; grilled sardines with artichokes on pizza; or a rich anchovy dressing on Caesar salad. If you’re craving a tuna sandwich, by all means have one, but make that can last twice as long by loading up the sandwich filling with shaved celery, carrots, scallions, and herbs. Along the same lines, make a spread using smoked fish, and purée it with mustard, mayo, and dill-as in the recipe below for Smoked Farmed Trout Purée with Cherry Tomatoes-to serve on bread, crackers, or sliced vegetables.
  • When you’re craving fish, try substituting another protein like beans, eggs, tofu, tempeh, or pasture-raised poultry.
  • If it’s the briny taste of seafood you’re after, sea vegetables have the same flavor and can be surprisingly hearty. Paired with crème fraîche and chives, minced hijiki seasoned with vinegar and soy sauce makes a tasty stand-in for caviar. Wakame, arame, and dulse give a rich texture to sea vegetable gumbo. Toasted nori makes a crisp, savory garnish for salads and side dishes.
  • Coarsely mashed chickpeas with lemon juice, scallions, and mayonnaise, sprinkled with nori flakes, makes a delicious sandwich filling with a texture much like tuna that you can really sink your teeth into.

Here are two simple recipes that include fish caught or farmed with safe, eco-friendly practices. I hope you have lots of fun cooking them, and even more enjoyment eating them. Until next time, thanks for reading, and be good to yourself and the earth!

Smoked Farmed Trout Purée with Cherry Tomatoes

Rainbow or Golden trout farmed in the U.S. are a recommended seafood choice because unlike many carnivorous farmed fish-which consume more protein than they provide to humans-trout efficiently convert their feed into protein. Because Rainbow and Golden trout are farm-raised mostly in tanks in Idaho, there is little risk of escape and contamination of wild populations. A fresh take on the New York delicatessen favorite, smoked whitefish salad, this version is full of herbs and dressed up by sweet cherry tomatoes.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup fresh dill, minced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced
  • 4 scallions, green parts only, minced
  • 1/2 pound smoked rainbow or golden trout, boned and skinned
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Black pepper
  • Crackers or bread

Place the mayonnaise in a small bowl with the dill, parsley, scallions, lemon juice, and a few turns of freshly ground black pepper. Stir and set aside.

Grind the trout in a food processor for 10 seconds. Transfer the fish to a large bowl and fold in the mayonnaise and herbs. Taste and season.

To serve, spread the puree on bread or crackers and scatter tomato quarters over the top. Season the top with salt and pepper and a sprinkling of minced herbs.

Miso-Glazed Striped Bass

U.S.-farmed striped bass are raised in ponds or tanks, so farm waste does not pollute the ocean. This easy Asian fish cooks fast and is full of flavor. Miso paste is made from soybeans, and is an essential component of Japanese cuisine-it’s the main ingredient in the miso soup you get with your sushi, and you can buy it at any natural foods store or market that sells Japanese or Korean ingredients. Cook the fish on high heat so it’s brown and a little crispy. Serve with garlicky mashed potatoes and a simple green salad. Dry sake served cold rounds this dish out well.

Serves 2 to 4

Marinade:

  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons sweet white miso
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

Fish:

  • 1 pound of farmed U.S. striped bass, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Blend the marinade ingredients in a blender. Lay the fish on a plate and coat it with the marinade, then cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Heat an ovenproof skillet on high. Add the olive oil, followed by the fish. Season the fish with a dash of salt and sear the first side for 1 minute. Flip and repeat on the second side. Baste the fish generously with the marinade and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 5 minutes.

To serve, place a piece of fish on each plate and pour the extra cooking sauce on top. Garnish with the scallions and a wedge or two of lemon.

MORE ABOUT LOUISA SHAFIA

A little bit about me: I graduated from NYC’s The Natural Gourmet Institute, and I’ve cooked at several excellent restaurants in New York and San Francisco, including Aquavit, Pure Food and Wine, Millennium, and Roxanne’s. All of these experiences have taught me that fine dining and natural ingredients make very happy partners.

In 2004, with a mind to bringing sustainable practices to the world of fine catering, I started my own catering company, Lucid Food. Our healthful food and eco-friendly approach has been enjoyed by clients like John Varvatos, Porsche Design, The Sundance Channel and Glamour Magazine. Over the last few years, I’ve been featured in the magazines Domino, Parents and Metro New York, and on the Discovery Channel’s website Treehugger.com. I’ve also lectured and taught at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester County, the Natural Gourmet Institute, Macy’s, and the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

In January of 2010, Ten Speed Press/Random House will publish my first cookbook, Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, a collection of healthy, eco-conscious recipes, tips, and entertaining ideas.

For more info about me and my work, and for more healthy cooking tips, please visit my website, Lucidfood.com.


14 Responses to “Can the seafood I eat help save the planet???”

  1. I’m not a big seafood fan, although my husband enjoys a nice seafood dish. You’ve given some great ideas here.

  2. leanora says:

    wow. had NO idea fish populations were at such risk and that current farming practices so bad (2048 no fish!!) Will definitely follow your recommendations. Thanks for the great info and the recipes – these look fast and easy to make and, most importantly, DEE-LISH!

  3. Ursula says:

    Thanks for the detailed analysis of the type of fish we need to be buying. I know there is a problem out there, but didn’t realize the extent of what’s going on. Your tips will help steer me in the right direction.

  4. jennifer says:

    this is a really thoughtful approach,,and the recipes are so simple and sound delicious. agree with leonora, who knew? thanks!

  5. Josh says:

    Great article Louisa! I hope that fishing practices evolve – the impact of losing our seafood populations would really be devastating. Your suggestions for seafood alternatives are great!

  6. adam says:

    Looks delicious. Will definitely try the recipes and think more about the seafood I buy. I eat too much meat anyway!

  7. Fiona says:

    Great recipes! I tried out the bass one last night and it was delish! Thanks so much for a thoughtful and well written article!

  8. Spot says:

    What a great article! I eat fish three or four times a week, so I am always a little worried about what impact my eating habits are having on the environment. I can’t wait to try out the trout.

    By the way, is there a good source for figuring out where restaurants get their fish if they don’t advertise it on their menus?

  9. Louisa says:

    Hi Spot,

    Great question! No, there’s no website that lists from whom restaurants source their seafood. However, if the restaurant is concerned with safe seafood issues, you can usually find some info about it online. For example, I just googled “Le Bernardin seafood,” to see if I could find some info on this top French joint’s seafood choices. I quickly found a statement from chef Eric Ripert saying he won’t serve “Chilean sea bass, grouper, shark, swordfish, or wild bluefin tuna.”

    For now, the most direct way is to ask your server at the restaurant. Any good restaurant should be able to tell you where its seafood originates! If they can’t, they will catch on once people start asking.

  10. Anu says:

    Very helpful article. What about fish choices when you’re pregnant? Does the same apply?

  11. Anabel says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for your article. Our family is in a rut and we usually make salmon or tuna dinner. I will definitely look to buy other types of fish, and try the smoked trout recipe. Thanks

  12. Jonathan says:

    Thanks Louisa for this insightful piece. It’s so refreshing to hear an elegant voice like yours take us through the environmental concerns of eating fish, and finding such deliciously palatable solutions. Not only have I learned some powerful information, but I’m also ready to experiment with some wonderful new dishes. I can’t wait to see what you write about next!

  13. Louisa says:

    Hi Anu,

    Great question! If you’re pregnant, you should definitely be eating fish, as it’s been shown to help with the development of the baby’s brain. BUT, you need to be really vigilant about your intake of mercury, the pollutant most often found in large fish. So stay away from shark, swordfish, and most kinds of tuna; bluefin, albacore, yellowfin, and bigeye varieties of tuna are all high in mercury.

    Instead, eat small fish that haven’t had time to build up a lot of toxins in their bodies. The following fish and seafood are low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids (which help heart health and cancer prevention). These fish come from healthy, abundant fish populations, so you can feel good about eating them: herring, farmed oysters, sardines, sablefish, Atlantic mackerel, and anchovies. If you’re craving tuna, look for skipjack, a species that’s lower in toxins.

    I hope that helps!

  14. This article is very informative. I occassionaly like to have some frozen fish on hand for a quick dinner butI have totally stopped purchasing supermarket seafood.
    It disturbs me that the majority of the fish in a supermarket is originated in China. Fortunately I live on an island and can sometimes catch a fisherman and get some fresh fish, although there are not many fishermen left.

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