Why I went to Safeway for my birthday

That's what I'm talking about

I am king for a day

In my little world, celebrations and holidays just aren’t complete without copious amounts of food. My birthday is no exception – I look forward to it every year as an excuse to throw caution (and, perhaps, responsibility) to the wind and to indulge myself. I like to get together with loved ones and either cook up a feast or dine at some up-and-coming restaurant that I’ve been salivating over for months.

I realize I talk a lot about moderation on this blog — staying away from critically endangered delicacies like bluefin tuna, not eating sushi four times a week, and all that — and I stand by it. But there’s a time and a place for celebration, and that’s important too. Not that I would eat bluefin tuna even for a holiday banquet, but I just might gorge myself a little bit (or a lot) on some sort of sustainable delight and fall asleep on the couch. My birthday is not a good day to be a crawfish, believe me.

Anyhow, my thirty-second rolled around last week, and as per my usual routine, I decided to celebrate with a feel-good dinner. This time, though, I went about things in a slightly different way.

This year, I went to Safeway for my birthday.

I know that sounds like a bit of an odd place to celebrate, but I felt it was important to pay Safeway a visit. See, the company had just done something very special – something that deserved celebration far more than me surviving another trip around the sun. But by a fun coincidence, both events happened to occur on the same day.

Out of sight, but no longer out of mind

Out of sight, but no longer out of mind

On April 7, 2011, Safeway went public with a commitment to avoid purchasing seafood from the imperiled Ross Sea – the world’s last remaining relatively pristine ocean ecosystem. The company then took a second step by publicly encouraging all countries involved in Antarctic fishery governance (this takes place within under the aegis of a management authority known as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine and Living Resources, abbreviated CCAMLR and confusingly pronounced “cam-lar”) to designate the Ross Sea a marine protected area.

This is huge.

Of all the major seafood retailers in the United States, only one other company – Wegmans, a well-regarded and progressive grocery chain in the Northeastern United States – has made such a statement in support of the Ross Sea. It’s nearly unheard of for a retail operation to foray into the political sphere in the name of the conservation movement. And Safeway, with the buying power of over 1700 stores, is an extremely powerful voice – just the kind of voice we need on the side of ocean conservation if we are to have any hope of protecting and resuscitating our ailing seas.

Chilean sea bass: seal food, not people food

Chilean sea bass: seal food, not people food

I admit to being a borderline fanatic when it comes to Ross Sea conservation, but it’s of critical importance. Not only is it a unique and invaluable ecosystem for a myriad of reasons, both scientific and ecological, but sending fishing vessels to this far-flung area raises a host of red flags from a sustainability perspective. It goes beyond issues relating to discrete fishery management and into a larger philosophical realm, which is where the core battle for sustainability needs to be fought.

I know I’ve said this before, but it merits repeating: sustainable fishing simply cannot occur when the fishery in question exists only as a reaction to an out-of-balance food system. We have depleted the fish closer to our homes and cities, so we sail ever outward in search of more – but there is a limit. The Earth is finite. Industrial fishing in the Ross Sea – or anywhere so far from human habitation and so close to the “end of the world,” as it were – must end if we are to develop a balanced and healthy relationship with our food and our planet.

One small step for Antarctica

So, here’s to you, Safeway. Your public commitment to this key initiative was one of the reasons you took the top spot in Greenpeace’s most recent seafood retailer ranking, and I salute you for your drive and courage. The Ross Sea — and the entire ecosystem that depends on it, including migratory whales, krill blooms, and countless other animals — is a little closer to safety because of you.

Thanks for standing up for the planet, and thanks for such a nice birthday present.

Oh, and check it out – I got myself a present, too.

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Sustainable Sushi Dinner at Nat Geo: March 30, 2011

Posted by Casson in News and Announcements


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Cherry blossoms: the best time of year in DC.

A quick heads-up for all the sustainable sushi fans in the DC area:

In partnership with the DC Cherry Blossom Festival, National Geographic, and Genji Sushi, I will be speaking at a sustainable sushi dinner this coming Wednesday evening at 7pm. I know this is last minute, but as I write this there are still about 30 or 40 tickets left so I wanted to make sure the information was available. Sorry I didn’t put this up on the website sooner.

Anyhow, the menu is spectacular — Miki Willis, the executive chef of Genji, has done remarkable work. Her dinner showcases the principles of sustainable sushi (such as the 4-S Rule, local awareness, and deference to precautionary science) and promises to be a great evening.

1st Course 冷菜/Appetizer
Katsuo Tataki Namerou Kyuri Gunkan/seared Skipjack spicy Miso tartar on a rice cracker, wrapped around with a cucumber strip

2nd Course お造り/Sashimi
Wild Salmon Kombu/Kelp pastrami over Mizuna leaf and julienned Daikon Radish salad with creamy Yuzu dressing, Ikura/Salmon Roe and Itogatsuo/Bonito Slivers on top

3rd Course 汁物/Soup
Kani & Eryngii Tonyu Jiru/Blue Crab and King Oyster Mushroom in soy milk Miso soup

4th Course 旬野菜3品盛合わせ/Local Seasonal Produce Sampler
* Negi & Hotate Nuta/sauteed Leek and seared Scallop with vinegared Japanese mustard Miso
* Beet & Hotate Umezu Ae/roasted Beets and fresh Scallop with Japanese Plum vinegar dressing
* Kale & Hotate Himo Kurumi Ae/blanched Kale and simmered Scallop Adductor with creamy Walnut sauce

5th Course 焼き物・揚げ物/Grilled and Fried
* Sawara Syouga Miso Yaki, Nama Shichimi/grilled ginger Miso marinated Spanish Mackerel with fresh made Japanese Seven Spice
* Murasaki-Imo Tempura, Yakumi/Purple Sweet Potato tempura with tempura sauce, grated radish and chive as condiments
* Shishito Su-Age/oil blanched Shishito Green Chili Pepper

6th Course 鮨/Sushi
Blooming Sushi [4 Nigiri and 2 pieces of thin Roll with beets colored Pink Sushi Rice]
* Bincho Nigiri/Albacore Tuna, grated radish and chive on top
* Fuki Nigiri/Giant Butterbur
* Amaebi Nigiri, Amaebi Kashira Karaage/Sweet Shrimp Nigiri, Masago/Smelt Roe on top, coming with fried Sweet Shrimp Head
* Katakuchi Iwashi Nigiri/marinated Anchovy in garlic oil, Sun Dried Tomato on top
* Aji Fry Hoso-Maki/Panko breaded Horse Mackerel, Shiso leaf and Edamame Hummus thin toll

7th Course 冷菓/Dessert
Sakura Goma Dofu, Shiso Gelee/salted Cherry Blossom and Sesame Tofu Pudding with Shiso jelly on top

There’s wine, too, thanks to the generosity of Wines of Argentina.

I’ll be speaking throughout the evening on a course-by-course basis, so there will be plenty of time to chat, sip wine, and savor the food.

The esteemed celebrity chef and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver will be hosting the event, and I’ll be around after the dinner to sign copies of Sustainable Sushi and all that fun stuff. For more info and to purchase tickets, check out the event page.

Hope to see you there!

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Coming up for air

Posted by Casson in Home Page, News and Announcements

Surfacing... after too long

Surfacing... after too long

Osashiburi!  Long time no see; it’s nice to be back.

I apologize for my unannounced and prolonged absence from this blog.  Real life caught up with me and I was forced to de-prioritize this project in favor of any number of other obligations.  I’m happy to say, however, that from this point forward, sustainablesushi.net is back in business.

There’s all sorts of interesting news on the eco-sushi front that took place while I was napping, so I’m a bit behind the 8-ball right now.  That said, I have a slew of posts and articles coming this way in the next few months, so we should be in good shape relatively soon.

There are a few items that I should mention:

  1. At least for the time being, this blog will no longer have a regular update schedule (as if it ever did.)  Articles will materialize here as is feasible and appropriate.   For regular readers, I highly suggest using the RSS feed so you are alerted when there is a new post.  You can subscribe to the RSS feed by clicking on the RSS button that appears at the top of a post page – just click on the headline of an any blog post and go from there.
  2. Yeah, well, at least it makes things easier to find

    Yeah, well, at least it makes things easier to find

    There will be some interesting cross-posting and guest posting.  Some of the key media outlets participating in this project include alternet.org, markbittman.com, greenpeace.org, and others.  I’m excited to start this new venture and I hope you all enjoy it as well.

  3. There’s a big serial piece coming your way.  I’m not sure when it will drop – it’s a long one and I still have quite a bit of work to do on it – but it’ll happen eventually.  It has to do with a recent two-week journey that Chef Hajime Sato and I took through Japan.

4) Even though the blog was down for the past several months, the individual fish recommendations are all still up to date as far as I know.  There are some big updates coming soon, though, so stay tuned.

That... took... forever

That... took... forever

I am sure that some of my readership has moved on during my absence, and I appreciate those of you who stuck around long enough to be reading this post now.  As always, I appreciate your comments and suggestions more than you know and would love to hear any ideas or thoughts you may have about how to keep this website interesting, informative, and enjoyable.

Thanks for your support and loyalty!

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Mysteries of the deep

By now most people have heard of Paul the psychic octopus, the prognosticating cephalopod that presaged the outcome of the 2010 World Cup.  Paul, a caged male common octopus (Octopus vulgaris: the same species as the tako at your local sushi bar) at Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, managed to successfully predict the winners of eight consecutive soccer matches – most of which involved the German national team – by eating a mussel from one of two small plastic boxes.  Each box was draped with the flag of one of the upcoming competitors, and Paul was allowed to choose between the two at his leisure.  Paul’s choices were accurate in all cases.

A statistician would tell you that the odds of an octopus predicting the correct outcome of a soccer match eight out of eight times are 255:1, or 0.39%.  Then, of course, another statistician would tell you that this would be true of any sequence of choices that the octopus made, correct or otherwise.  At this point a third statistician would remind you that regardless of the choices that the octopus had previously made, the chances of him accurately choosing the winner of any one game, World Cup Final or not, is exactly 50%.  Then you’d probably get bored and go do something more interesting than listen to a group of statisticians talk about an octopus.

Gimme ten bucks on whatever the octopus said

Gimme ten bucks on Paul

Oddly, the world at large did not get bored.  In fact, just the opposite occurred.  The buzz surrounding Paul and his alleged clairvoyance grew to such a level that in the final match, bookies could actually see a shift in betting patterns immediately after the octopus ransacked his chosen mussel box.

Paul has received international acclaim as well as the adoration of Spaniards everywhere.  The clever little mollusk was a given miniature World Cup trophy as well as honorary citizenship in a small Spanish town. The Madrid Zoo has promised the octopus a life of sultanesque luxury should Sea Life be interested in selling him – an offer which the German aquarium has repeatedly rebuked. Sea Life may soon change its tone, however, now that a cadre of Russian bookmakers has offered 100000 Euros for the octopus.

Others are not as reverent.  The Germans, in particular, have loudly and repeatedly called for Paul’s blood (which is blue, by the way… octopuses use hemocyanin to carry oxygen rather than the hemoglobin many other animals use, and thus they end up with blue blood instead of red).  Many indignant German soccer fans are demanding that the octopus be grilled, barbecued, or otherwise ritually killed and consumed for predicting Germany’s upset loss to Serbia.

The octopus is not the issue here, dude

I’m digressing.  This isn’t supposed to be about the octopus, or the fans, or soccer.  For me, the most compelling piece of this ridiculous story is the conceptual angle – the fact that we find ourselves opening our minds to the possibility that the ocean may have produced something that is far beyond our comprehension.

Paul’s feat reminds us that there is a tremendous amount of wonder and mystery in the sea.  We have learned enough about the complex ecosystems of this planet to realize that there are any number of potential superfoods, magic bullets, and cures for cancer hiding in their midst; we just haven’t found them all yet.  The ocean is no exception.  We have no idea what marvels are down there, hiding in the depths.

Last month, at Jacques Cousteau’s posthumous 100th birthday celebration, the great ocean explorer’s grandson Fabian reiterated the popular adage that “we still know more about outer space than we do about the deep ocean.”  While I’m not certain how we can qualitatively prove this statement, the thrust of it is what’s important: we are still incredibly ignorant when it comes to deep ocean ecosystems.  Unfortunately, this has not stopped us from causing untold damage to these unexplored realms — and there is little more damaging to the ocean than bottom trawling.

Bottom trawls are weighted nets that are used by fishing vessels to ensnare species that live along the floor or the ocean.  These nets are dragged along the seabed, pulverizing corals and causing tremendous damage to reefs, invertebrates, and rocky habitats.  Given that the total area of ocean floor trawled each year is twice the square mileage of the United States, we’re no doubt causing serious trouble for countless animals that live amongst the stones and eelgrass.  The mortality rate of bottom trawling – that is, the percentage of impacted animals that are killed by these nets – is extremely high, often surpassing 90%.  Many of these creatures aren’t desirable from a strict economic perspective, and are tossed overboard as soon as they’re pulled up.  This carnage is known as bycatch, and some trawlers (especially tropical shrimpers) have been known regularly to haul up nets with bycatch outnumbering the targeted species by over ten to one.  For every pound of shrimp these boats catch, over ten pounds of other animals – fish, invertebrates, etc. – are pitched over the side, already dead.

Imagine the scale of waste and destruction that the global trawling enterprise precipitates on a daily basis – the loss of life, the destruction of habitat… it’s staggering.   In exchange for a short-run profit bump, these trawlers ride roughshod over the deep like the horsemen of some marine apocalypse.  Who knows what miracles we may have already lost to their greed and indifference?

Land of opportunity

While I haven’t yet made up my mind about whether or not I believe that Paul does indeed have some sort of extra-sensory perception, I am grateful to him for reminding us all that there is so much that we still don’t understand hiding beneath the waves.  Psychic octopus or not, it doesn’t matter – the important thing is to realize that is that we can’t afford to sacrifice the immeasurable potential of the deep for a few extra dollars in the here and now.

Life is full of mysteries.  Some, like Paul, can bring great joy and wonder.  Others may take a bit more exploration to unlock, but could be even more dazzling.  If we don’t reign in our destructive practices, though, we may never find out.

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    A royal pardon

    Posted by Casson in News and Announcements

    In the embattled world of sustainable seafood, it’s always nice to see positive change in a major public venue.   As heartwarming as it is to hear from someone who has pledged to stop eating Chilean sea bass or unagi, it feels even better when a restaurant – or even better, an entire seafood distributor – drops it altogether in the name of environmental preservation.

    In this vein, I’m thrilled to see a spark of light appear in the otherwise relentlessly dismal saga of the bluefin tuna.

    Bright lights and sharp knives

    Many readers of this blog are likely familiar with Food Network’s Iron Chef America, a culinary contest wherein a visiting chef races against time to prepare an assortment of gastronomic delights for a panel of judges.  At the same time, one of the resident masters – a star-spangled group known as the Iron Chefs – embarks on the same task in an effort to defend his or her title against the upstart challenger.  The dishes are linked by the requirement that they must all involve the day’s secret ingredient, which is revealed only moments before the contest begins.  The entire exercise takes place in front of dozens of cameras and a few quirky announcers in a regal arena known as “Kitchen Stadium.”

    The chefs are allotted one hour to prepare their items and are subsequently judged on the relative merits of their menus.  The chef whose culinary tour de force is deemed to “reign supreme” by the panel is considered the winner of the day’s contest.

    Wait -- WHAT?!?

    Iron Chef America is a interesting show, to be sure, but it has historically concentrated on strict gastronomic hedonism – it seems that no ingredient is too expensive (or too endangered) to be included in the Stadium’s massive inventory.  I remember one particular episode of its forerunner, the Japanese TV cult smash Iron Chef, where a chef cooked down half a dozen lobsters with a few stalks of asparagus only to subsequently serve the lobster-infused vegetable and throw the crustaceans themselves in the trash.

    Anyhow, the reason I bring this up is to highlight what I consider to be a significant shift towards ocean conservation in the highest levels of the modern American foodscape.  Iron Chef America has catapulted any number of victorious challengers into the spotlight – perhaps it can now do the same for a fish.

    On Monday morning, a well-known food blogger and sustainable seafood enthusiast named Richard Auffrey threw his cyber-gauntlet at the feet of culinary celebrity and TV personality Alton Brown.  Mr. Brown, the host of Iron Chef America, is known to be a vocal advocate for seafood sustainability.  He has, in fact, gone as far as publicly announcing that until sushi kingpin Nobu Matsuhisa removes bluefin tuna from the menus of his eponymous restaurants, he will not set foot in any Nobu anywhere.

    Leave me out of this. I'm feeling prickly.

    So why did Auffrey take aim at someone who seems to be fighting on the same side of “Battle Bluefin”? (apologies to the Chairman)

    Last week, Kitchen Stadium was visited by Makoto Okuwa, the former sous chef of Iron Chef and sushi icon Masaharu Morimoto.  Over the course of the contest, Chef Makoto prepared five dishes, all containing the day’s theme ingredient (which, auspiciously for the sushi chef, happened to be sea urchin.)  One of Okuwa’s offerings was his “uni surf and turf”: urchin-kissed wagyu beef paired with a ribbon of otoro, the belly flesh of a bluefin tuna.  Brown did not raise any objections or offer any comments on the unsustainability of the dish, and Auffrey reamed him for it.

    I’m proud of Auffrey for sticking up for the flagging bluefin, but that’s not why this is so interesting to me.  The fascinating thing is what happened immediately after Auffrey posted his rant: Brown responded.  Like, right away.

    Brown fenced with Auffrey a bit over the aggressive and accusatory tone that the blogger had adopted, but he also admitted that the use of bluefin in Kitchen Stadium was lamentable and unnecessary.  The two traded barbs and questions for a bit, but in the end, Brown took action and the oceans got what they needed.  According to Brown, bluefin tuna is now banned from Iron Chef America.

    Bluefin? Not in our house... at least, not anymore

    This is fabulous.   Iron Chef America is both one of the pioneering shows behind the recent explosion of food porn in the United States as well the American rendition of a classic Japanese TV program.  To have the pseudo-traditional otoro excluded from the Kitchen Stadium arsenal is an extremely powerful statement about the reality of our ailing oceans and the need for immediate action if we are to save them.

    There are so many things about this story that I like.  I like how Auffrey stood up to Brown and called him out.  I like the prompt, gentlemanly, and constructive response Brown offered in spite of his indignation.  I like the quick decisive action that Brown took to rectify the situation.  I love the fact that bluefin tuna is now pisci non grata on a major Food Network television show.  And the icing on the cake?  Chef Makoto decisively lost the battle to Iron Chef Michael Symon, who didn’t use any bluefin at all.

    Score one for the oceans.

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    Update: Mackerel (Saba)

    Fishy goodness

    I’m a big fan of mackerel.  It’s a fantastic fish.  Not only is it healthy and nutritious, but it reproduces quickly, breeds in large numbers, and often benefits from effective and precautionary management.  Good stuff.  In fact, saba has been a sushi staple of mine for years, and I encourage you to give it a shot in the place of other more troubling sushi items (like unagi or hamachi, for instance) next time you visit a sushi bar.

    That being said, some troubling news from the Atlantic has forced me to revisit my standard double-fisted endorsement.

    The mackerel fishery off the coast of the British Isles has been growing in popularity now that the more traditional seafood options, such as haddock, have been depleted.  One would hope that we can learn from our previous mistakes and manage this fishery in a precautionary manner that will prevent us from repeating the depressing boom-and-crash pattern that we’ve seen with cod, plaice, and other North Atlantic species.

    Everything looked positive at first.  A pole-and-line mackerel fishery in Cornwall, as well as several midwater trawl fisheries elsewhere in the British Isles, sought and received Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.  Management seemed to be sound and bycatch was low.  Now, however, climate change has reared its head, and a new set of challenges is looming on the horizon.

    Go north, young fish... actually, wait

    Global climate change is affecting the water temperature of our oceans.  The surface waters of certain areas of the Northeastern Atlantic are beginning to warm slightly, and this has driven the mackerel stocks further north.  Their migration has taken them into Icelandic and Faeroese waters — the territories of two massive new predators whose presence had not been foreseen by management or certification authorities.

    The mackerel stock in the Northeast Atlantic is managed under a joint quota that is split between the European Union, Norway, and Russia.  Iceland, which has never fished this stock in the past, has now unilaterally declared that it will take over 100,000 mt of mackerel annually.  The total quota set for the fishery for the EU, Norway, and Russia combined is just over 500,000 mt.  The Icelandic fishing industry is taking an additional 20% on top of this, and is doing so in spite of the current international management efforts.  The Faeroes have also announced that they will be substantially ramping up their mackerel fishery, which may compound the problem even further.

    For cod and country

    These international tugs-of-war over our fishery resources are never good.  This kind of competition can lead to overfishing, increasing pirate fishing activity, and even — especially in the case of Iceland and the UK — direct confrontation.  A few decades back, these two countries had a prolonged series of naval skirmishes over fishing rights.  These “Cod Wars,” as they came to be known, included ramming, net cutting, and even shots being fired.  Luckily no one was harmed, but the importance of this issue to the Icelanders and the British was underscored several times over.

    A few days ago, the MSC stated that additional Icelandic and Faeroese fishing pressure on the mackerel stock may end up costing certified mackerel fisheries their blue stamps, which has caused outrage in the UK.   Groups like the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association are up in arms — not just because they may lose their quota, but also because the MSC’s distant deadline of January 1, 2012 puts very little pressure on the relevant authorities to resolve the dispute.

    It remains to be seen how the EU will respond to Iceland’s actions, but until we know more, we should exercise a bit of caution with our consumption of Atlantic mackerel… or, even better, buy domestic.

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    It’s about responsibility, jerk

    Posted by Casson in News and Announcements

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    Mine! Mine! All mine!

    In an age where we are pushing our planet’s limits in search of resources, we find more and more poignancy in questions of corporate social responsibility. What obligations, either ethical or legal, should govern an a extractive operation as it roots around in the rainforest, slurps up the oceans, or grinds its way into the Earth’s crust in search of coltan, cod, or crude oil?

    We have reached a point where the simple ability to access a resource can no longer be interpreted as right to do so. This kind of anachronistic thinking has gotten us into a world of trouble. The fact is that we are an incredibly powerful species, with the technological capacity to perform jaw-dropping feats. We can build immense transit tunnels below the ocean, launch intricate networks of satellites to enrich communication, and splice vegetable DNA into a chicken. This kind of space-age tech lends perceived legitimacy to business plans which make endeavors like offshore oil drilling appear safe and massively profitable. A few people make a lot of money, something goes horribly wrong, and we all pay the price.

    Crude behavior

    The toxic results of this kind of unmitigated rapacity have been spurting into the Gulf of Mexico for weeks now. A small group of people decided that they were willing to gamble with the health of our planet for their own personal gain. We should be furious. Who do these pompous egoists think they are, and why, for God’s sake, are we allowing them to compromise our future for their own profit?

    This appallingly selfish approach to business must be stopped. Given that we live together on a finite planet, the corporations of the future must be those that are willing to take responsibility for their actions.

    The concept of sustainable seafood is predicated on the idea that seafood purveyors, which have for decades served as implements of oceanic destruction, must start standing up for the planet regardless of traditional consumer preferences. The fact is that the average seafood diner or sushi patron simply does not have the time to educate him/herself on the environmental impacts of the vast and ever-changing array of seafood options available to consumers in today’s world. Diabolically efficient fishing technology coupled with cheap refrigeration and well-organized global freight networks allow us access to countless seafood items for all corners of the globe, some environmentally acceptable and some quite the opposite. As such, chefs, merchants, and restaurateurs that take the initiative to defend the ocean and its future. After all, if you work in the seafood industry, it is the ocean that is providing your paycheck.

    The face of the future?

    The face of the future?

    Thankfully, we are seeing a gradual shift towards this more responsible way of thinking. In the seafood world, I can think of no better example than Martin Reed and his sustainable seafood delivery business, ilovebluesea.com. Reed shoulders the burden of sorting the proverbial wheat from the chaff himself, so his customers really can’t make a mistake in terms of the environmental repercussions of their choices. Ilovebluesea.com refuses to offer seafood items that are in the Seafood Watch “avoid” category or on the Greenpeace red list, and demands transparency and traceability on the part of his suppliers. Gear type, catch location, and other important information must all be provided before ilovebluesea.com agrees to offer the fish. The company is even addressing packaging and shipping issues by using recyclable and/or biodegradable containers rather than Styrofoam and similar petro-synthetic nightmares.

    A much larger company also recently took an impressive step towards corporate social responsibility in the seafood world. Maersk, the shipping giant, has declared that it will not transport any whale products, any shark products (including fins), any Patagonian or Antarctic toothfish, or any orange roughy on its ships due to concerns about the sustainability of these products. This is a very powerful message, especially when one considers that Maersk ships about 20% of all of the world’s internationally traded sea-borne seafood products.

    Full steam ahead

    Full steam ahead

    The Greenpeace seafood retailer rankings also help to shed some light on seafood purveyors that are – or are not, as the case may be – doing the right thing. Companies like Target and Wegmans are taking positive steps and working towards truly sustainable seafood operations, while others, like Costco, are charging full steam, hands clapped over ears and yammering loudly, propelling us all in our mutual handcart down to Hades.

    We obviously do not have the legal framework in place to reign in this kind of behavior. Otherwise, one could surmise, we would never have had a Deepwater explosion, and Costco wouldn’t be selling Chilean seabass and orange roughy in the first place. Given that, it is up to us as consumers to act.

    We need to reward businesses that are making the change towards legitimate corporate social responsibility. Buy seafood from honest purveyors that don’t try to pull the wool over our eyes. Some companies are willingly selling out our oceans to line their bank accounts – so why are we shopping there?

    If you want to make your money from my ocean, you’d better treat it with respect. It’s about responsibility, jerk.

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    Guest post – Mark Bittman: “One Way to Buy Supermarket Fish – Frozen”

    Posted by Casson in Guest post, News and Announcements

    Guest posts at sustainablesushi.net do not necessarily represent the opinion of the owner/operator of this website (Casson Trenor). In fact, they are often chosen specifically because they offer an alternative perspective and can give rise to interesting debate. Guest authors neither pay nor receive any sort of compensation for their participation.

    Salmon with a side of certainty

    One Way to Buy Supermarket Fish – Frozen

    By Mark Bittman

    I (Mark) found this salmon fillet at Shaw’s, in Berlin, Vermont. Frozen hard. It looked good, and the price was right ($12 a pound, I think, which for real sockeye isn’t at all bad), so I bought it. I had no idea what the numbers meant, so I asked Casson Trenor.

    His response:

    “Accurate species name — Latin name — certification # — FAO catch area — verbatim wild-caught language – Yes, this is very good. It’s nice to see grocery stores putting Latin names on their seafood – it helps consumers avoid confusion.  Some fish are plagued by this problem – a big one on the West Coast is Sebastes spp., or the Pacific rockfish.  You see that sold as all sorts of things – rock cod, Pacific red snapper, whatever.  If we added a Latin name on the label it would be a lot easier.  So it’s great to see stickers like the one on this salmon. Where did you find it?”

    When I told him, he was surprised:

    “This issue that I have is that Shaw’s is owned by SUPERVALU, which is notorious for their disregard of seafood sustainability. They continue to languish near the bottom of the Greenpeace rankings.  In fact, a SUPERVALU executive once told me that their company was so decentralized that they literally did not even know what seafood they sold.  How can you build a sustainable seafood operation on that?  It’s terrifying.

    “So while I see this labeling system as a positive trend, it is anomalous in terms of how SUPERVALU operates as a larger conglomerate.  I strongly suspect that label was created and applied by the supplier that the salmon was purchased from, not by Shaw’s itself.  You can see the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) coding on the label, so may have just been handed down.  That’s fine, but why only in Shaw’s?  What about at Albertson’s, or Jewel-Osco, or Lucky?  And does this mean that SUPERVALU is looking at improving their labeling overall?”

    Just to give you an idea of the size of SUPERVALU, here is a quick line-up of its US banners:

    I said, “No doubt they’re opportunistic, but us showing this fish to markbittman.com readers is not exactly implicit support of Shaw’s or SUPERVALU – it’s demonstrating that sometimes you can find what you’re looking for in unlikely places.

    “Fair enough,” Trenor responded.  “That product itself certainly merits support.  Sustainable, fairly priced Alaskan sockeye salmon, frozen and clearly labeled.  I’m all for that.  It’s just a shame that it’s such a rare occurrence at SUPERVALU that you and I can justify writing a blog post about it.”

    Illustrations provided by author (Mark Bittman). Captions provided by sustainablesushi.net.

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    License to krill

    Mountingly meaningless

    Increasingly meaningless

    Two days ago, the gavel came down in an adjudication decision which may, more than any other recent hammer-strike, determine the future of fishing: The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) officially bestowed its blue-and-white fish-check label to a massive factory operator that targets Antarctic krill.

    This is not a good thing.

    Antarctic krill are tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that cluster in vast multitudes (known as “blooms”) in the waters of the Southern Ocean.  They form a critical building block in the oceanic food web: small fish consume the krill before being eaten themselves by seals, penguins, toothfish, and other animals.  Krill are also a primary source of nourishment for migratory whales — in fact, the majority of the world’s baleen whales journey to the southern ocean to feed on krill and replenish their energy supplies after depleting their reserves during their mating and calving seasons.

    While krill in their vast numbers do seem on the surface to be an “inexhaustible resource,” one would hope that, by this time, we have learned that this mindless assumption will never be accurate in regard to any of the inhabitants of our finite planet.  There is no such thing as an inexhaustible resource.  Ask any great auk or passenger pigeon, they’ll tell you.

    Oh, wait — you can’t ask them.

    Because there aren’t any left.

    Because there’s no such thing as an inexhaustible resource.

    Trouble bath

    Trouble bath

    There are a few things that we are certain of about krill.  The first is that the tiny animal, like many other sea creatures — especially crustaceans — is vulnerable to climate change, especially through the ocean acidification trends resulting from the rising levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  Nowhere in the Marine Stewardship Council certification system are the potential effects of climate change even discussed, let alone taken into account by the methodology.  Strike one.

    Next, we know that Antarctic krill exist in the Southern Ocean – an area adjacent to a land mass that is uninhabited by humans.  The simple fact that we are sending fishing vessels into this area bespeaks an unsustainable paradigm, known as finite expansion.  There is a certain amount of ocean on this planet.  That we continue to fish farther, deeper, and longer simply underscores the fact that we are not approaching the management of our oceanic resources from a sensible and comprehensive standpoint that would account for the idea that one day – one day quite soon, actually – these fishing boats are going to bump up against the ice shelf.  No more expansion.  What then?  The Marine Stewardship Council methodology again fails to even consider these perspectives, concentrating instead on discrete management techniques that do not consider the idea that sustainability is more than a fishery-by-fishery label – it is a way of looking at the world.  Strike two.

    A tiny mystery

    Little critter, big mystery

    Finally, we know that we have only a very rudimentary understanding these tiny animals.  Krill have been studied only cursorily and we have almost no knowledge of their life history and behavior.  It is irresponsible in the extreme to proceed with the certification of a fishery that is so cloaked in mystery – we have no idea what kind of damage we could be doing.  Strike three.

    And yet in the face of all these worries, the rubber stamp comes down and the MSC pronounces the krill fishery to be sustainable.  Let’s not forget that vehement objections to this certification have already been lodged by the Pew Environment Group and the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition.  These objections were overruled — but let us not forget that the three strikes listed above were not taken into account in the decision, as they are simply not part of the MSC methodology… and if something isn’t part of the system, it apparently doesn’t have any relevance on reality.  Or so the adjudication decision would lead one to believe.

    In search of pink gold

    In search of pink gold

    There is a conceptual concern here too.  The certification of this fishery gives an unofficial nod to the basic idea that vacuuming up the tiny life forms forming the foundations of the oceanic ecosystem is an acceptable practice.  In reality, it’s not.  Even the United States fishery management authorities banned fishing for krill in US waters, specifically to allow it to remain in the ocean as a food source for other organisms.  Legitimizing and expanding Antarctic krill fishing is simply transferring our unceasing resource demand to a hitherto unrecognized protein source.  This is not the way to move forward – in fact, pulling too hard on this loose yarn just might unravel the whole tapestry.

    The certification of krill makes no sense.  It’s a minuscule building-block animal on the other side of the world that simply doesn’t belong to us.  We can’t even eat it – the krill will just be used to make oil, fish food, and other rendered products.  And for this, we may end up short-changing whales, toothfish, seals, and other animals – all because the powers that be refuse to look at the entire issue from a larger perspective.  Fishing for krill will not feed the world — but it just might end up starving it.

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    The 4-S Rule

    I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by a team from CNN on sustainability issues in the sushi industry. This clip is me explaining what I call the “4-S rule” – a simple, if somewhat crude, guide to eating in a more sustainable fashion at the sushi bar (oh, and a small correction to CNN’s byline – I am a co-founder of Tataki Sushi Bar, but I don’t actually own the restaurant.)


    As I discuss in the video, there are four adjectives, each starting with the letter S, that form the eponymous rule. If a sushi bar patron bears these descriptors in mind while he or she orders, it can markedly diminish the environmental footprint created by dinner. This is not a perfect system – there are exceptions to each of the four “S” words – but by and large, it does help one to order a more sustainable sushi meal overall.

    Skipjack tuna served nigiri-style with gobo, scallions, and a shiso leaf. The skipjack is the smallest tuna found in the sushi industry, and has both the lowest average mercury content and the highest reproduction rate.

    The first word is SMALL. Smaller fish are generally lower on the trophic scale (food chain), grow more quickly, die younger, and breed in larger numbers. These biological survival tactics are employed by many fish to help them withstand heavy predation — they play the numbers game and simply create as many offspring as possible so a few manage to escape the yawning maws of hungry predators.  In essence, these are the kind of fish that are designed to be fed upon. Their physiology and population dynamics are generally more resilient to our fishing pressure and protein demand than top-of-the-food-chain carnivores, such as large tunas, swordfish, and sharks. Moreover, smaller fish generally have less mercury accumulation in their systems than these apex predators due to their shorter life spans and less voracious appetites.

    Examples: Sardines (iwashi), skipjack tuna (katsuo), horse mackerel (aji)

    Wild coho salmon, sashimi-style. Alaskan coho is well managed, healthy for consumers, and seasonally available.

    The next word is SEASONAL. Seasonality is key to sustainability. If we are to reduce our carbon dependency and rekindle our connection with the ocean, we need to be more aware of where we are and what time of year it is when we order our fish. A good rule of thumb is to order off the specials board rather than the laminated menu when possible – any items on a year-round menu are unlikely to be sourced on a basis of seasonal awareness. It was our demand that certain intrinsically seasonal products be available to us year-round that gave rise to environmental missteps like conventional salmon farming. This category also offers us the added opportunity to take advantage of seasonal vegetables and fruits, which innovative chefs often incorporate into their specials.

    Examples: Wild salmon (sake), Dungeness crab (kani), spot prawns (ama ebi),

    Pacific saury prepared over wood charcoal.  Saury are a cold-water schooling forage fish and have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

    Pacific saury prepared over wood charcoal. These cold-water schooling forage fish have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

    The third word is perhaps the most surprising – SILVER. Eat sushi that is served with a silver skin still on it. This category of fish is known as hikari mono in Japanese, and contains mackerels, halfbeaks, shads, and similar fish. These animals tend to be loaded with omega-3s as well as being low in mercury, and can be sourced from many well-managed fisheries. An added bonus is that the hikari mono are some of the most treasured fish in the repertoire of a traditional sushi chef; a menu featuring these items will often prove to be an unforgettable culinary experience.  I highly encourage all sushi-goers to explore the world of hikari mono – you just may find your new “absolute ultimate all-time favorite” sushi item.

    Examples: Mackerel (saba), Pacific saury (sanma), Spanish mackerel (sawara),

    Kumomoto oysters on the half-shell with momoji oroshi. Oysters are high in protein and easy to raise in low-impact farms.

    The final word is SHELLFISH, and I’m speaking specifically of bivalves and mollusks. Not only are these creatures excellent sources of protein, but they are considered by many to be delicacies and aphrodisiacs. Bivalve and mollusk aquaculture has sound environmental benefits as well: it tends to involve relatively low-impact farming methods when compared to other types of fish farming, such as tuna ranches or salmon farms. As filter-feeders, animals like clams, scallops, and oysters can be grown without the use of any additional feed.  This reduces their dependence on marine resources and eliminates the kind of inefficient protein use that we find in operations like hamachi and unagi ranches.  These mollusks also grow quickly, and can be raised in cages and bags that require no dredging or other types of seabed alteration during harvest.

    Examples: Oysters (kaki), mussels (muurugai), geoduck (mirugai)

    That’s about the size of it. Small, seasonal, silver, and shellfish – a quick-and-dirty road map to a more eco-groovy sushi experience. There are, as I mentioned earlier, numerous exceptions to this rule, but it serves as a fairly reliable lodestone for those who are interested in shifting their sushi dining habits toward a more sustainable paradigm.

    Oh, and one final quip: as it happens, the letter S occurs exactly four times in the term “sustainable sushi.” Remember that to keep the 4-S rule in mind.

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