{food policy} Sustainable Sea Food

A few years ago I went to Rockport, Massachusetts with some women friends for a get-away-from-your-regular-life-for-50-hours-at-the-beach vacationette.  The four of us drove in one car, stayed in a cheapish funky place right on the beach and had a wonderful time.  We went out to restaurants for every single meal, drank cocktails and went for long chatty walks.  It was fun and we felt happy and warm toward each other and the world.  I even agreed to go shopping; will wonders never cease?  We all remember the weekend fondly and think about a repeat soon.  I highly recommend doing this with your three closest friends as soon as you finish reading my post.

Happy women on vacation together

During that lovely weekend we went on a whale watch.  I have been on whale watches before and have always been humbled and astonished.  On this particular trip we got really lucky.  Our boat stumbled on to a run of sand eels being eaten by four humpback whales; a mother and her calf, a single female and a juvenile.  They were beyond breathtaking, covered with barnacles, full of élan, and bigger than a mack truck.


Our boat was brimming with a human kindergarten class on a field trip as well as the usual assortment of whale tourists.  The kindergartners were great; every time a whale passed near our boat, turned around in a circle, dived, lifted a fin, burped, spouted or farted they would raise a huge group cheer of delight. They were a wonderful Greek chorus to the playfulness of the whales.  I watched those gorgeous, enormous creatures with awe for the hour that our boat full of kindergartners parked in their midst.  The mother whale was clearly teaching her calf about humans.  She and her child passed under our boat several times; she watched us with alert, friendly eyes while engulfing gallons of sand eels.

The sand eels were also beautiful. Maybe six inches long, they roiled around in communal clouds that rippled the surface of the water.  After awhile I learned to spot them by the change they made in the reflectivity and texture of the ocean.  They were like a light show.

Sand eels

Whales, while not hunted like they were in the past, still face a tremendous environmental challenge; human over-fishing of the oceans.  When we left the whale boat the young woman who narrated the experience and kept the kindergartners from diving overboard gave us a printed guide to sustainable sea food.  The message was clear, it is the same message everywhere; stop what you are doing, pay attention, it matters.

The oceans are suffering.  What used to be a wilderness, rich with life not forty years ago, has been over-fished and polluted and is turning into a desert that will not support whales, sea lions, seahorses, dolphins and the other animals we feel sentimental about, let alone sea cucumbers, giant tube worms and priapulids.  All nature is disappearing down our gullets.  We eat everything that crawls, swims, flies or gallops across this fragile ecosystem, dump garbage and poisons with abandon, use scanners to ferret out the last living being on the ocean floor, tolerate off shore drilling without adequate spill protection.  We need to pay attention.  That attention can be directed in many different ways but the simplest way for you as a consumer to make a difference is to change your eating habits.  If you eat fish or other sea food, make sure that the food you put on your plate is not adding to the terrible, ignorant destruction of what religious people call Creation and what I think of as an astonishingly complex miraculous improbability that is none the less here.  Like it or not, we are the custodians.

Whale underwater

In our farmers’ market, there is a fish monger. I am thrilled that he is there and do not want him to go away, but I ask him about sustainability when I buy fish from him. I am more aggressive in my local supermarket, where I routinely berate them for stocking one of the most endangered, if delicious, fish; Atlantic cod.

Ever since my friends and I went on that whale watching trip all four of us have carried a sustainable sea food guide to the grocery store.  There are two really good sites I use on the web that have downloadable consumer sea food guides here and here.  I am sure there are other good web sites with guides and encourage you to tell us about them.  If you eat fish or other sea creatures, I beg you to look at these, educate yourself, and then use the same discernment for sea food that you use for buying local and organic vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products.  The ocean is every bit as important as the land.  Until really recently we barely made a dent in it.  That has changed.

Even if you don’t carry a seafood guide with you, there are some kinds of sea food you can avoid.  These are the most endangered common sea foods that you should not eat when you have a choice (which is always, let’s get real here): 

  • Atlantic bluefin tuna,

  • yellow fin tuna, perch,

  • orange roughy, octopus,

  • eel,

  • Atlantic cod,

  • flounder,

  • skate,

  • and sturgeon.

  • Also avoid Chilean sea bass, King crab, imported shrimp, farmed salmon and most canned tuna (see below).

Leave some fish for the pelicans (OK this was Belize, not Massachusetts)

The following is a list of the most sustainable sea foods and fresh water fish available in grocery stores in our area.  Buying these fish, bivalves and crustaceans is like buying local milk.

You can support environmentally sound fishing, avoid the biggest offenders and help heal the world for the next seven generations by substituting these food species:

  • Arctic char,

  • farmed US catfish,

  • farmed US clams,

  • oysters and mussels,

  • haddock,

  • imported cod caught by hook and line,

  • Pacific halibut,

  • wild Alaskan salmon,

  • farmed US scallops,

  • longfin squid,

  • striped bass from the US and Canada,

  • swordfish from the US and Canada,

  • tilapia farmed in the US,

  • albacore tuna labeled dolphin safe from the US and Canada,

  • hake, and

  • Atlantic herring.

My youngest, Rudi, being kissed by a dolphin

Like all the other mindful things you do, it is not hard to eat sustainable sea food when you get the hang of it.  Save the whales.  And the dolphins.  And the sea lions. And the abalone.  And the nautilus.  And the vela vela.  And the tuna.  And the octopuses or octopi.  And the sea urchins.  And the barnacles.  And the krill, most of all the krill. And here is my favorite way to make salmon:

RECIPE: Wild Salmon Filet

1 pound or more wild salmon filet
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter


Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.  Wash, dry and season the salmon with salt and pepper.

Turn on your overhead vent or fan.  Melt the butter in a roasting pan in the oven.  It will smoke a bit.  As soon as it is melted, place the salmon filet, skin side up, on top of the butter.  Roast five minutes, turn over and roast five more minutes. Serve immediately.  Really good with buttered, salted new potatoes and salad.

RECIPE: Buttered Salted New Potatoes

Boil any quantity of small new potatoes in their jackets till fork tender, about 20 minutes.  When cool, peel and reheat in a pan over medium heat with about 2- 4 tablespoons of melted butter, turned frequently until just slightly browned.  Add a large handful of chopped parsley, heat one more minute to slightly cook the parsley. Remove from heat, add salt.


11 Comments Add yours

  1. Great Post – thanks for sharing – oh so important!

  2. Cathy says:

    Hannaford says all of its seafood is sustainably sourced. Is there more to this we should understand?
    “Effective March 31, 2012, all seafood products sold in Hannaford stores are fully traceable to the wild fishery or farm, and come from sustainable sources.”

    Web: http://www.hannaford.com/content.jsp?pageName=SeafoodSustainability&leftNavArea=FoodLoveLeftNav.

    1. Dianna says:

      Having a responsible sea food supplier is good. Most of the fish at Hannaford comes from the US, Canada and northern Europe, with some fresh water fish from elsewhere. I think it is pretty reliable over all. I still won’t eat cod and tuna (well sometimes I eat tuna at sushi restaurants) because the populations are too low for my comfort, but I think Hannaford is probably doing a good job from talking to them in the store I shop at. That said,I don’t think any salmon farms are doing a good enough job since they have a marked effect on the water and species diversity around them and just seem cruel. Part of the problem with salmon farms is that they feed them other fish, like ground up sand eels, that were not captured in a sustainable fashion. Another part of the problem is that shallow seas are among the most productive ecosystems in the world and we just should not be farming in them.

      I feel more confident in the species exclusion list generated by marine biologists than I do in a grocery store, even one that is trying to behave responsibly. Some species we should just leave alone for a decade or two to let them recover.

    2. spr01nk says:

      I doubt this is true. They carry orange roughey, which, by its nature cannot ever be sustainable.
      My curiosity is piqued, and I’ll call the main office. 🙂

  3. spr01nk says:

    There is an app called seafood watch which is both free and incredibly handy at the grocers.
    The Atlantic cod thing is a crime against fishmanity. Fortunately for the cod, it’s most likely not cod. The cod populations have not rebounded after their collapse and the incidence of fish fraud is pretty much epidemic in the us. I still berate the grocers for it also.
    I was recently in a grocery where i was told the they had fresh water anchovies. Amused, i asked if they were those cool anchovies from lake Erie that are so tasty. The man said yewords! While I’m lucky enough to have in laws that are gulf coast shrimpers, it’s still on me to be informed about what’s on my plate. fresh water anchovies indeed.
    Be aware that Hannaford only has the word of the distributor’s word to go by and supermarkets don’t know because they don’t have bandwidth to follow a paper trail. I have tried to all sourcing questions and no one, not even whole foods had answers. thank you for bringing up this important issue!

    1. Dianna says:

      Thank you for your informed comment! I agree re orange roughy and cod. But I hadn’t realized it wasn’t actually cod. My basic instinct is to stop eating fish. I am going to be Rasta soon, only eat ripe fruit falling from the trees. But yes, the Hannaford fish guys are just people working there. I talk to the manager and he is someone just working there with a promotion. So I rely on the marine biologists instead. If I ever get a phone with apps, I will look for that app, maybe that is the reason I should have a phone with apps.

  4. Mary Ellen says:

    It was an amazing experience out there boating along and then seeing a water spout and whales everywhere in the middle of a huge calm.

    1. Dianna says:

      It was, let’s do it again! Right now, I am tired of being a responsible adult sitting at my desk.

  5. Ebony says:

    Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4
    year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear
    and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.

    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell

Start a conversation --> We love feedback!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s