FINDING SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD IN FISH DEPENDENT JAPAN

Living in the U.S., the availability of fresh, whole foods including fish can be found in a variety of places from grocers and farmer’s markets to fish mongers. If you’re mindful of what you eat and are prepared to go beyond the big box stores, then you can be choosey in your purchasing and commit to the suppliers that have sustainable products at a decent price. Plus, there is a growing awareness of what it means for food to be sustainable. While many places outside of the U.S. have cultures based around whole foods, some including Japan may still be catching up on what it means to be sustainable in a broader sense.

My family and I have lived in the Okinawan prefecture of Japan for about a year and a half now. Thousands of American service members and their families live here and get to experience life in this new culture. It’s quite different from the states, but an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself and your family in a different type of living. Before we moved here, we lived in the U.S. and the UK and gradually grew accustomed to shopping for whole foods that were labeled as sustainably caught or raised, farmed locally, or approved by a governing body as sustainable. We were so excited to move to Japan and get to enjoy fresh fish in what could arguably be considered the best place to buy fish on the planet. While this island is slightly less dependent on fish than the rest of Japan, it still dominates the markets and restaurant choices. Locally grown food and freshly caught fish are broadly available, just as we had imagined, but taking into account broader sustainability objectives such as preservation of ecosystems, reduction of overfishing, and even sustainable delivery systems are hard to determine when deciding which places offer the most sustainable choices.

Japan isn’t well known for its responsible fishing, so we’ve had to set priorities in what’s important for us in terms of sustainable seafood. We’ve found that it’s important to us to buy fresh fish caught in the island’s surrounding waters as much as possible. For us, that means frequenting the local fish market that’s usually packed with locals eating lunch straight from the fish case at the tables provided inside the market. The market is located right on the docks so the fish quickly goes straight from the water to the table. There are very minimal shipping concerns with the local catch, and there’s a nice variety to put our concerns of overfishing to ease.

As far as finding the larger grocery stores providing responsible choices of seafood, there are a couple that have started to display where the fish have been caught and whether it is considered sustainable. If you go to the larger cities or on the mainland, then you may be able to find items labeled with the Marine Stewardship Council logo. Those are, however, somewhat rare where we live in Okinawa. With the Japanese culture dependent on massive quantities of fish, expecting sustainable practices in all fishing aspects may be a bit much to ask for all at once. It may be a long road to incorporate sustainability in all fishing processes here, but the fact that some suppliers are offering clearer choices is a big step forward in creating an educated public and giving consumers more sustainable options.

In terms of committing to our previous shopping practices of buying as sustainably as possible, it has proven much more challenging here than in the states. However, now we actually get to see our fish come straight from where it was harvested…something that didn’t happen for us in the Midwest or the Southwest states. We appreciate the great effort put into using all parts of the fish to reduce waste, the detail in preparing fish caught for a purpose, and the deliberate nature of merging culture with food. Our family is up for the challenge of seeking out those places that choose to educate consumers and make sustainable seafood part of their offerings. We love experiencing a place with a culture completely immersed in food tradition. It will be interesting to watch how its sustainable practices unfold over time, but for now, we’re hopeful that there are food suppliers willing to make the effort and lead the way to a sustainable seafood future here in Japan.

Credit: seafoodblogproject

SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD AND WHAT YOU CAN DO

Today’s post comes to us from our friends at What You Can Do, a video series that provides action items for ordinary people who want to make a difference in under one minute. What You Can Do recently teamed up with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to put together a series all about sustainable seafood, and if you have a few minutes today to be inspired, take a look at the great videos they put together!

Save The Tuna

Tuna is one of the most widely consumed fish in the world, and one of the most endangered fish species. What You Can Do speaks with Shelia Bowman, Senior Manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, about threats to our tuna populations and how we can make small changes to enjoy tuna more sustainably.

Cooking and Dining Sustainably

With tuna and other species facing dangers from commercial fishing, we can make sustainable seafood choices to help protect our oceans and wildlife. What You Can Do interviews Ryan Bigelow, Outreach Manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, about ideas for cooking delicious and ocean-friendly fish and how chefs are driving the sustainable seafood movement.

Everyday Sustainability, How To Eat Sustainable Seafood, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Seafoodwatch, Sustainability, Sustainable Seafood, Where To Find Sustainable Seafood

Credit: seafoodblogproject

EMBRACING SUSTAINABILITY: A CHALLENGE TO FOOD CELEBRITIES

Sustainable Food Success Stories 

On March 17th, 2015, twenty chefs from some of the world’s top restaurants gathered in San Sebastian, Spain to promote sustainable seafood at Oceana’s Top Chefs event. (I wasn’t invited, so I can only imagine the delectable dishes that they cooked up.) Oceana is one of many groups trying to save the oceans while encouraging seafood consumption. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Chef’s Collaborative promote undervalued, sustainable species such as pollock and scup. Community supported fisheries, fishing cooperatives that roughly follow the model of community supported agriculture operations, have popped up on both US and Canadian coasts, connecting consumers and restaurants with fishermen, shortening the supply chain. Chef Bun Lai of Miya’s Sushi cooks with invasive species while Chef Ian Arthur of Chez Piggy in Ontario explores (and understands) the economics of marine ecosystems and seafood.

As a gourmet and marine science wonk trying to combine my passion for the ocean and food into a fruitful career, this transition toward fresh, traceable, sustainable food is beyond exciting.

Sustainability is Sexy 

Despite these sustainable successes, many big name chefs and famous restaurants have yet to embrace sustainable food. As a long-time fan of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods, his 18 Seductive Seafood Recipes for Valentine’s Day disappointed me. While all the recipes looked delicious, 5 of them contain shrimp. If you’re up to date on the do’s-and-don’ts of seafood sustainability, you’re already avoiding shrimp. Speak with anyone connected to marine conservation and they’ll tell you that it’s almost impossible:

“To get shrimp and feel good about what you’re doing for the future. Wild shrimp are caught in a process that produces very high levels of…bycatch. And farmed shrimp are [raised] in shallow pens…in tropical countries that are often managed in a very short-sighted way… wrecking and contaminating coastal [ecosystems].” [source]

If you buy imported shrimp, most of which comes from Thailand, there’s a good chance you’re supporting a gruesome slave trade and intense pollution. And unless you eat spot prawns from Alaska, if your shrimp was caught domestically it’s likely that juvenile sharks and sea turtles died in nets alongside the shrimp.

Other recipes on Mr. Zimmern’s Valentine’s Day list include oysters, scallops, mussels, and clams, shellfish that often come from well managed fisheries and aquaculture operations that actually remove waste from the ocean. Yet he didn’t mention any of these positives. By neglecting to embrace food sustainability, Mr. Zimmern missed out on a fantastic marketing opportunity. Sustainable food is sexy. More people than ever are demanding to know where their food comes from and how it was grown or caught; consumers like feeling good about what they eat. Promoting food as organic, sustainably harvested, or local often increases its value. Wouldn’t it have been great if, by cooking from one of Mr. Zimmern’s 18 seductive recipes, you could show your love for that special someone, the environment, and local fishermen at the same time? 

The Palm 

Having been in DC for a few weeks, living and cooking off of an intern’s salary, my uncle decided to treat me to lunch at The Palm. He assumed, correctly, that I would appreciate a juicy steak in a classy restaurant. My rib eye, true to its reputation, was one of the tastiest steaks I have ever eaten, perfectly seasoned and grilled to a deep pink.

I figured that at an upscale restaurant like The Palm the steaks would be from the choicest grass-fed, organic beef and that the quality and sustainability would be a selling point. After lunch, I went on The Palm’s website to see if I was right. Not exactly. The Palm proudly serves aged USDA Prime beef, corn fed, hand-selected and aged a minimum of 35 days. 

The list of evils of corn-fed beef is perhaps longer than that of shrimp, and yet The Palm sells both. Many quality restaurants have already embraced sustainable practices. Restaurant Nora in DC, the first certified organic restaurant in the US, actively promotes its pasture-raised beef, a more sustainable option that supports local farmers with a smaller carbon footprint. Boston-area restaurants Oleana, Sofra, and Sarma source their produce from Siena Farms, a local CSA, while Water Bar in San Francisco presents a daily menu of fresh, responsibly caught seafood. Sustainability has become a marketing tool. So why isn’t the “best” steak in the world grass-fed? Why hasn’t The Palm capitalized on an opportunity to market sustainable beef?

Impact 

Encouraging upscale restaurants and big-name chef’s to embrace sustainable food may seem like a small step toward a sustainable future, but think about all the influential people in DC and New York City that eat “power lunches” at The Palm or all the fans of Andrew Zimmern’s recipes (including 779 thousand twitter followers). What happens when those politicians and lobbyists start asking, why is grass-fed beef better than corn fed? What happens when Andrew Zimmern’s followers notice that his recipes no longer include shrimp?

Hopefully they begin to cut back on products that hurt the environment once they get answers. Learning from celebrities, instead of environmental activists or scientists, that certain options are more sustainable than others often has a better chance of changing public behavior. By refraining from specific products, consumers have power to shift markets toward sustainability

Since starting this piece, Mr. Zimmern has demonstrated his commitment to sustainable seafood. In March he engaged in a discussion about the benefits of eating lionfish, an invasive species in the Caribbean. He has also posted recipes like this one, for grilled sardines, that provides a tasty way to eat small fish, which as he points out are generally more sustainable than big predators like tuna and swordfish.

Credit: seafoodblogproject