If you lived over a hundred years ago in turn-of-the-century, rural America, chances are you would sit down to a meal and know where it all came from – the potatoes, beef, and wheat in the bread would be from nearby farms. Perhaps you were even pals with the farmers who grew your food! While the cuisine has certainly evolved since then for the better, we now know a whole lot less about the origins of our food, especially given the nearly limitless options.
In recent years, we’ve taken big steps to becoming more aware. Many of us now know to check if strawberries – a fruit from the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” produce list – are from an organic farm before they go into our shopping cart. Just as understanding where your produce and meats come from is important, tracing your seafood’s origins benefits both your personal health and the health of the planet, especially given the widespread mislabeling of fish.
At LoveTheWild, we’re committed to ensuring that you know where and how your seafood is sourced. For each of our fish dinner kits, we include a label on the box that shares which sustainable farm raised your fish. Plus, you can check out our blog series, “Ask A Fish Farmer” to take a peek into how they do it.
Although we think our fish make a very “fin-tastic” choice when it comes to sustainability, taste, and ease, we know that sometimes you may feel the need to eat seafood other than LoveTheWild – here are 5 must-know tips so you can make healthy, sustainable choices and avoid any bait and switches.
1. Get the Seafood Watch app. With this tool, you’ll have sustainability ratings on 85% of the seafood market – both farmed and wild – at your fingertips! With their simple “traffic light” rating system, it’s easy to tell if a species is a Best Choice (green), a Good Alternative (yellow), or one that should be completely avoided (red).
For example, if you’re looking for a sustainably-farmed Atlantic salmon, the app will provide a list of recommendations to look for when you’re shopping and dining out. Seafood Watch’s Business Engagement Manager, Brian Albaum, says, “It’s so important to ask businesses, ‘Are you a Seafood Watch partner?’ When people ask this question and demand better information about their seafood, more grocers and restaurants supply sustainable options.”
The app itself actually has roots dating back all the way to 1997 at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Fishing For Solutions” exhibit, which featured tabletop cards with lists of seafood that were sustainable choices. When people started stealing these cards, the aquarium took it as a good sign and launched the Seafood Watch Program in 1999, which has been running strong for nearly 20 years. For wild-caught seafood, they examine the health of the fish stock being targeted, as well as other environmental factors like bycatch. In the case of farmed seafood, they explore chemical use on farms, such as antibiotics, and determine how liquid waste affects the surrounding environments.
As they’re always adding species to their system and publishing updates to existing ones, be sure to download their app!
2. Eat at restaurants that serve sustainable seafood.
Wise restaurateurs and chefs know better than anyone else that in order to keep serving a variety of delicious seafood for years to come, we need to prioritize eating certain types of fish and keep others off the plate. Our hats are off to these three restaurants leading the charge for sustainable, traceable seafood – plus, if you ask them where a specific fish or shellfish is from, they’ll have the answer for you!
Bamboo Sushi – This sushi bar in Denver and Portland is a pioneer when it comes to serving sustainable fish. In 2008, their Portland location was deemed the world’s very first certified sustainable sushi restaurant by the Marine Stewardship Council. Bamboo also serves up a mean Thai chili-infused sake creation, The Dragon.
Border Grill – With various locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the modern Mexican eatery in Los Angeles and Las Vegas pledged over sixteen years ago to only serve sustainable seafood. For Chefs and Co-owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, this was always a top priority, especially since so many of their dishes (like their Border Ceviche or Pescado Veracruzano), which are rooted in Oaxacan and Yucatecan cooking, feature delicious seafood.
Rick Moonen’s Seafood – If you’re in Vegas, grab a table at this sleek spot at Mandalay Bay. (They have quite the raw bar with all the fixings!) Chef Moonen, an active member of Seaweb and Seafood Watch, has been advocating for chefs to thoughtfully select their seafood and make responsible choices for years. “Sustainability plus responsibility equals accountability,” he says. “That’s my message.” They’re also hosting a special monthly Chef’s Dinner that focus on sustainability – check out their Facebook page to stay in the loop!
3. Shop at grocery stores committed to offering sustainable seafood.
Whole Foods Market, for example, does a wonderful job at sourcing wild-caught, farmed, and canned fish and shellfish that tick all the boxes when it comes to traceability and sustainability. If you’re a salmon lover, we’ve also partnered with Whole Foods and Kvaroy Fiskeoppdrett (a third-generation Norwegian farm) to offer an exclusive Salmon and Coconut Red Curry dinner kit. Although, if you’d like to give a new type of fish a try, you can also pick up other kits like our Striped Bass & Roasted Red Pepper Almond Sauce at Whole Foods too.
On the East Coast, Wegmans offers an array of sustainably-farmed and caught options. They even provide organic farm-raised seafood like salmon and shrimp from the E.U., and organic mussels from Canada. (While these products can’t technically be labeled as organic in the United States, they can in the European Union and in Canada, where they have an organic seafood certification. For more on this, check out #5 below!)
Mom’s Market, another East Coast grocer, is committed to only selling 100% sustainable seafood, including everything from frozen entrées and fresh fillets to items that contain seafood as an ingredient, like fish sauce. They also thoroughly vet their suppliers, asking important questions such as which catch method was used for wild-caught fish? And did their sources change throughout the year? Basically, all the questions a caring mother would ask.
4. Keep an eye out for these labels.
The seafood industry still has a way to go in terms of labeling (more on that in Tip #5), but here are two aquaculture certifications that indicate that the seafood item in question can be traced back to a sustainable farm doing things right. And at LoveTheWild, we partner with sustainable farms, including ones with these certifications:
Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) Certified
Thousands of NGOs, scientists, and industry experts have worked together to develop the Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s high standards. On a mission to make aquaculture more sustainable, this international nonprofit thoroughly vets farms to ensure they don’t harm the environment – whether they are based in lakes, rivers, or the ocean. An independent auditor checks to make sure the farms reduce the use of chemicals and antibiotics, source feeds from responsible origins, protect water quality, and prevent illnesses. The ASC also addresses social impacts, by ensuring that the farms provide safe workplaces and fair wages for their employees and take care of their neighboring communities. ASC-certified farms hire local workers whenever possible and also ensure that essential resources like clean water and fishing grounds are always maintained.
Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) Certified
By purchasing Best Aquaculture Practices seafood, you can rest assured that the product originates from a processing plant, farm, hatchery and/or feed mill that minimizes the impact on the surrounding ecosystem, applies the best animal husbandry practices, and ensures that the food is always handled safely. GAA Executive Director Wally Stevens explains, “These processing plants, farms, hatcheries and feed mills are audited annually by an independent third-party to ensure that that the BAP standards are being complied with 100 percent, as BAP does not allow for exceptions with its program.” On top of this, BAP reviews the treatment of employees, ensuring that workers are treated fairly and provided with a safe working environment.
5. Support organic labeling for seafood.
There isn’t an “organic” certification for seafood in the United States – YET. If you have spotted organic labeling on seafood, it was for fish or shellfish that was raised in Canada or the E.U. For example, the farm that provides our tasty Red Trout, John O Foods, is located in Ontario, and their fish (pictured below) are certified by Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standards. Long story short, enacting a USDA organic aquaculture standard has been difficult, stalled by slow rule-making processes and political agendas. However, it’s on the horizon and would benefit everyone – suppliers, retailers, manufacturers, and consumers alike by by offering greater choice and transparency.
At LoveTheWild, we can’t wait for the day organic labels appear in stores. Without an easily understandable and recognizable label like organic, it’s hard to communicate the quality and sustainability of our fish dinner kits and seafood bowls.
If you would also love to see organic labeling in the United States, take action and “Write to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and ask that the proposed final rule for organic aquaculture be published.
Have you used the Seafood Watch app or spotted any of these sustainable seafood certifications? Tell us on Twitter with #LoveTheWild!