Monday, August 24, 2009

A Field Guide to North American Seafood Menus

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has put together a consumers' guide to sustainable seafoods. The idea is to encourage grocery shoppers and restaurant patrons to support responsible fisheries, like wild Alaskan salmon, and to avoid fisheries that are environmentally harmful or near collapse, like farm-raised Atlantic salmon.

Snapper, Red

Rating: Avoid

Red snapper is in decline worldwide, and fishing pressure on this species remains excessive. Red snapper should therefore be avoided.

Market Names:
Mule Sow, Rat, Tai, American Red Snapper
The guides started as printable pocket versions that you could fold into your wallet and consult at the supermarket. But now there's an even better, more discreet version for mobile phones, accessible at (part of the mobile-phone webpage about Red Snapper, a species that's in serious decline, is shown at right). Or, if you prefer, get the iPhone app. There's even a guide tailored for sushi restaurants that translates common Japanese fish names.

These guides are meant to accompany your menu at the restaurant, but I find them pretty fascinating in their own right. For instance, the Aquarium's guide for the Northeast region endorses Pacific halibut as "best choices," but we're advised to "avoid" Atlantic halibut and flounder caught here in the Gulf of Maine.

Clams (both farmed clams and wild steamers) are also endorsed as a "best choice." Which is good news, as long there's no red tide.

And Monterey is lukewarm about Maine lobster, a fishery that's long been hailed for its socially-driven sustainable management techniques. Maine lobster ranks as merely as a "good alternative," not as one of the "best choices," since the "current population status is considered weak or unknown" and there are concerns about right whales getting trapped in the buoys and lines attached to traps. Haddock also falls into the middling "good alternatives" category, with the caveat that "the majority of U.S. Atlantic haddock is caught using bottom trawl gear [which causes] considerable habitat damage to seafloor habitats."

So maybe I'll switch my preferred clam-shack order from fried haddock with tartar sauce to fried clams, and just opt for salad during red tides or after big rainstorms.

If you're a chef looking for sustainable-fisheries cred, Monterey Bay and a number of other marine research institutions also recently launched, a tool for restaurants and other commercial seafood buyers.

1 comment:

jeremiah said...

this seems like a great resource for sure. i wonder how much, if any, consideration went into how much transportation resources are consumed by, say, getting salmon or pollock from alaska to the northeast? in any case, thanks for the tip!