Local Seafood, and What That Really Means

Reader Contribution by Menuism
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Reposted with permission from Menuism

Seafood is a heart-healthy, low-fat source of protein; the American Heart Association recommends we eat at least two servings a week. But there is myriad and often conflicting information about what fish we should and should not eat due to sustainability concerns. It’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out! So how does one eat more of the right types of seafood to reap all the health benefits without going bald? Choose local!

In 2009, a study by the World Wildlife Fund ranked U.S. fisheries second in the world for compliance with the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management Act, U.S. fisheries are required by law to meet ten national standards for sustainability and must work in tandem with the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts. These standards ensure that stocks are healthy, and that bycatch (the unwanted marine creatures caught while fishing for other species) and impacts to surrounding ecosystems are minimal. Put together, U.S. fisheries are among the best managed in the world, yet Americans import more than 86 percent of our seafood from sources that have few, if any, management measures in place to protect the health of stocks and the surrounding ecosystems. Whether you’re on the coast or days from it, domestic seafood is the responsible choice.

For those of us on the coast, it’s best to select seafood from our local seafood communities. Choosing local promotes diversity, minimizes carbon footprint, supports local fishermen, and it’s fresh! However, local, seasonal seafood is not always conducive to the tuna-and-salmon seafood diet to which many of us are accustomed. For example, here in Southern California, fishermen harvest sea urchin, sardines, and Kellet’s whelk (a type of sea snail). The majority of these harvests are shipped overseas because Americans tend to be squeamish, but we should learn to get over it! If we diversify our seafood palates, we’ll reduce mercury consumption and promote sustainable fisheries, while increasing our consumption to reap seafood’s health benefits. Try this sardine recipe by Chef Chad White of Sea Rocket Bistro in San Diego. He also created an uni gelato that is surprisingly tasty.

Chef White isn’t alone. Many chefs are turning underutilized, local species that we once turned our noses at into tasty and inspiring dishes. Proving that urchin does not have to make you sneer, Chef Michael Poompan of SIP Lounge at the Renaissance in Long Beach teamed with urchin diver Stephanie Mutz to create a creamy uni and grits dish that won over the crowd at a recent event. Many chefs who work with seafood have been inspired by the local movement and are forging relationships with local fishermen to feature their catch on their menus. Seafood for the Future is working to facilitate these relationships in Southern California at partner restaurants, including SlapFish, Gladstone’s, Andrei’s, and Roe. In Boston, 606 Congress’s Chef Rich Garcia has taken his support of local fishermen a step further. He’s partnered with Trace and Trust, which allows diners to see pictures of the fishermen who caught the fish on their plate along with the area, method, and date of catch.

Eating more of the right types of seafood doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The locavore movement is growing, and many chefs are doing the work for you by highlighting local selections on the menu. If the seafood is domestic, you can feel good about making a responsible choice that is good for you and good for the environment.

Feeling inspired? Want to create some local seafood concoctions of your own? Support community-supported fisheries (CSF). It’s the same concept as community-supported agriculture (CSA), but with seafood. You always know where your seafood is coming from, you’re supporting local fishermen and communities, and it doesn’t get any more fresh! The CSF trend is growing in popularity throughout the country and NOAA Fisheries recently conducted a summit to support CSF expansion in the U.S. Go to LocalCatch.org to find a CSF near you.

Photo by Fotolia/Dimitrios