Growing up in California, I learned at an early age the importance of healthy marine ecosystems. While we depend on our oceans for food and recreation, we also know that their health is vital for climate regulation. About 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, and most of that is made up of oceans. It’s clear that when eating out or shopping for seafood, it is important to make wise choices, not only for the health of our planet but for the health of our families.
At Seviche, as we work toward setting the example for ocean-friendly cuisine, many loyal customers have noticed some changes on the menu. Chilean sea bass, for example, is a controversial species of fish that has become the “poster child” for sustainable seafood issues. The concern is that high market demand drives depletion and creates incentive for illegal fishing practices. Although my Chilean sea bass dish was a Seviche favorite, I made the decision to replace it with black cod, a fish that remains abundant due to responsible management of fishing methods. Was I worried that my sales would suffer due to the change in the dish? Absolutely. However, we have found that our guests not only love the black cod, but they are also very receptive to the change and supportive of the reasoning behind it.
The absence of such a high-profile dish on our menu created the opportunity for our staff to discuss sustainable seafood with diners and educate them about the issues surrounding the marine habitat, fishing and farming methods and health concerns.
For instance, if you are at the market debating between two types of salmon and you know nothing about sustainable seafood, you might be inclined to pick Atlantic salmon because it’s more economical. However, all Atlantic salmon sold in the United States is farm-raised, and these farms cause water pollution and spread disease to wild fish populations.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, farmed salmon are usually given an excessive amount of antibiotics and they also contain high levels of mercury or PCBs that may pose health risks, particularly to children.
Suddenly that higher-priced Alaskan wild salmon is sounding pretty good, right? Their fishery is well-managed and the habitat is healthy.
It’s not as hard as you might think to keep up with all of this. I recommend visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website, www.montereybayaquarium.org, where you can view seafood recommendations, find recipes and get information about becoming an advocate. I printed out their Seafood Watch guide and posted it in the kitchen to help keep us on track. They also offer a pocket-sized guide that you can download and keep in your wallet, and an iPhone application that can guide you to healthy and earth-friendly choices in the market or at the restaurant table.
Become part of the solution – you will be pleasantly surprised to find many of your favorite seafood choices on the “Best Choices” list!
Anthony Lamas is chef/owner of Seviche, named one of the “ten great places for Latino flavor and flair” in the country by USA Today. Lamas, a 2010 James Beard nominee in the Best Chef: Southeast category, has been a featured chef at numerous festivals across the country. In 2011, Lamas will be presented with the Seafood Ambassador Award and participate in the Cooking for Solutions celebration featuring Alton Brown at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Seviche, located at 1538 Bardstown Road, can be reached at (502) 473-8560.