Your Sushi Impact

By Iron Chef Leftovers

When you are going to your local sushi joint, chances are you are doing something that is both bad for your health and bad for the environment. What and why? You might ask? Well, you may not realize this, but most of the fish used in sushi restaurants (even at the high end places – although this is starting to change) are the equivalent of factory farmed livestock. Here are some examples that I pulled off the menu from I Love Sushi in Seattle:

Atlantic salmon – raised in densely packed pens where they have to be fed antibiotics to prevent disease.

Shrimp – raised in stagnant pools of water in Asia and Latin America loaded with filth and diseases. Here is an example of how bad it is.

The same thing goes for most of your white fishes – sea bass, escolar, yellowtail, snapper, etc. There are very few farmed fish that are done in an environmentally responsible manner.

What about wild caught fish? Well, some are better choices than others. From the same menu:

Sea Eel – they are horribly overfished and the fisheries are on the verge of collapse.

Tuna – depending on the kind, it ranges from a good choice (locally pole caught albacore) to a lousy choice (critically endangered Bluefin tuna).

Sea Urchin – Depending on how and where it is harvested, it might be sustainable.

Clams/Scallops/Oysters/Geoduck – these are generally raised in heavily regulated beds and are an excellent choice for sushi. It doesn’t hurt that Washington has some of the best producers of these tasty critters in the world. If you are buying sushi here, there is a good chance that your bivalves are local.

Wild Salmon – a much better choice than the farmed stuff, especially if the fish is pole caught.

All of this came up from an article I read about Bluefin tuna recently in the Smithsonian magazine. (I highly recommend reading it). I am not saying don’t eat sushi; what I am saying is make informed choices.

The issue is a complex one and I am over-simplifying it here. If you want more information on good choices for eating fish, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program or the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program. We have many sustainable sushi places in Seattle, most notably Mashiko – the chefs there are passionate about what they are serving and are happy to guide you through unfamiliar but tasty choices on their menu. Whole Foods no longer stocks fish on the Seafood Watch red list. The best thing that you can do is to ask where the fish you are eating is coming from – whether it is from a sushi place, a seafood restaurant, a fish monger or a supermarket. If the person selling the fish can’t tell you where it was from, if it is farmed or wild and how it was caught, you really should not buy it. Don’t be afraid to ask a place to carry more sustainable choices. In most cases, they are willing to do it because they don’t want to lose the business. If they aren’t willing to do it, go somewhere else that is.

There is much more information on this topic out there, so I will let you decided what your feelings are on the subject. I would recommend the following though to get you started (and I have all of these books if you want to borrow them from the Iron Chef Lending Library):

Four Fish by Paul Greenberg

The Story of Sushi by Trevor Corson

Tuna, A Love Story by Richard Ellis

The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America by H. Bruce Franklin

The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

And finally a video from a chef who gets it:
Oh, and in case you are skeptical and  you think that all of these books are written by academics who have never been on a boat, Trevor Corson worked as a professional lobsterman for several years and spent a number of years living in Japan. Greenberg, Ellis and Franklin are all avid sport fishermen and really know their subjects (I have had the pleasure of having long conversations will all 4 of these authors). I am trying to get the dialogue started and at least make people aware of their choices, and getting the information out there is the first step in the process.

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