Chefs with Issues: Making Seafood Sustainability palatable

Learn how chefs embrace sustainability when cooking with fish…

Today, consumers are more naturally curious about the provenance of their food and its method of production, and retailers have found a way to make these types of conversations part of the every day. More and more people want to know where their tomatoes were grown and who picked them. They also genuinely care about the quality of life of the cow that yielded that T-bone. But fewer customers think about the sustainability and origin of the seafood on the menu, other than perhaps where the fish were raised.

While some chefs are leading the charge and embracing sustainability at every level, others have been slower to come around on the subject.

As Scott Nichols, PhD of aquaculture innovator, Verlasso, said, “We can’t keep depleting our oceans. To continue to eat fish, we need to raise them in an ecologically responsible manner, benefitting both the consumer and the species – not just capture them. With a current worldwide population exceeding seven billion people – estimates for 2050 push that number to nine billion – effectively sourcing quality fish has come to the forefront of the international discussion on sustainability.”

As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported in 2008, “Fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with at least 15 percent of their average per capita animal protein intake.” That is a small percentage of people, consuming a whole lot of fish. Coupled with the fact that the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend doubling the consumption of seafood from 3.5 ounces to eight ounces per week, it is easy to conclude that aquaculture will play a key part in helping to feed a hungry world.

Salmon, that nutritional powerhouse that consumers go to for brain and heart health, was the species that opened the discussion on the importance of sustainable seafood. Until recently, chefs only had two sources of salmon they could put on their menus: wild-caught and farm-raised.

Salmon, like tuna, is just one type of large fish that depends on several levels of the food chain for survival. In essence, each fish needs to consume many smaller fish to thrive. As Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia states, “A pound of tuna represents roughly a hundred times the footprint of a pound of sardines.” And given our growing population, this is just not a reliable method for increased seafood demand.

Yousef Ghalaini, executive chef of New York’s Imperial No. Nine adds, “Those chefs who do opt to put wild salmon on their menus say that it is harder to prepare – being lower in fat – and some diners find the flavor too intense.”

Most farm-raised salmon, on the other hand, is raised in an environment where every life stage is controlled: quantity of eggs fertilized, number of fish per pen, diet and harvest.

The detractors to this method, however, are clear: Farm-raised salmon also demand high levels of feeder fish for their diet.

Nichols notes, “This ratio is termed ‘fish-in, fish-out’ and typically translates to four pounds of fish needed to produce just one pound of farm-raised salmon.” Adding to the sustainability conundrum, many of these feeder fish are considered consumable on their own, as opposed to being used as feed for salmon.

In recent years, environmental groups like Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) FishWatch have brought increasing attention to both wild fisheries and traditional aquaculture, which has led to improvement in the industry. But, much remains to be done to make aquaculture healthy and sustainable.


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