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There’s an old cliché that goes “there are plenty of fish in the sea”. This is meant to convey options and opportunities, but nowadays, it’s not a particularly apt analogy. Because fish stocks are dwindling due to poor husbandry and overfishing, and there aren’t a lot of fish in the sea anymore.

SeaChoice is a program by Sustainable Seafood Canada designed to mobilize consumers and industry to buy sustainable seafood, which is caught or farmed with consideration for the ocean’s ecological balance and the long-term viability of the fish. SeaChoice offers guidance to restaurants and consumers on what to buy and what to avoid.

seachoicecowbellEarlier this week a pair of events hosted by Jamie Kennedy Kitchens and organized by JK Wine Bar Chef de Cuisine Tobey Nemeth allowed both the public and restaurateurs and media to learn more about SeaChoice, what they do, and how we can make better choices when it comes to what fish we eat.

The industry event offered fish and seafood-oriented snacks from some of Toronto’s top restaurants, including Starfish, Oyster Boy, Cowbell, the Drake Hotel, Reds and of course, Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, complimented with wines from Henry of Pelham.

Jamie Kennedy Kitchens was also presented with the SeaChoice Recognition Award for their commitment to the welfare of the environment by supporting sustainable, local produce and sustainable fisheries. By creating a space where staff and diners can interact, JK Wine Bar provides the opportunity for dialogue about the food and where it comes from. Customers are given copies of the pocket seafood guide and are encouraged to ask questions about their meal.

seachoicecodThis type of industry leadership encourages other restaurants to seek out sustainable fish products for their own establishments and provokes customers to think about the choices they make both in restaurants and at supermarkets. In a society where people spend more time deciding what to wear each morning than on what they’re going to eat, the need for a change in how we look at all types of food is imperative.

Chefs unaware of sustainability issues, who design their menu based on flavour and availability, instead of what is safest in terms of contaminants or with an eye to avoiding species that are overfished, may find themselves at a disadvantage as customers become more aware of the issues. Chilean Sea Bass and Atlantic Cod (two types of fish that are significantly overfished) continue to appear on menus across the country, including here in Toronto, but a wise and concerned chef will find other, more sustainable options.

seachoicesashimiSeaChoice offers a searchable online database with descriptions of each species, as well as an explanation of their status. The red, yellow, green rating system makes it easy to determine which fish should be avoided, although it still requires effort on the part of the chef or consumer to find out exactly where their fish comes from before being able to determine if it’s okay to eat. Farmed Atlantic salmon, for instance, is most definitely on the “avoid” list, and even warrants its own brochure in the media press kit, but labeling on farmed Atlantic salmon – such as omitting the “farmed” bit – can be misleading, both to chefs who are dealing with massive quantities of product and to consumers who might not be informed of the issues, particularly when fishmongers often cannot provide specifics on where and how the fish were caught.

As customers, we need to start holding our restaurants and chefs accountable and encouraging them to search out sustainable fish to serve in their establishments. And we need to communicate with each other on which restaurants are serving sustainable fish. The Endangered Fish Alliance website is still maintained, although their restaurant listing section looks to be a few years out of date. However, it would still be a good place to start when searching for a restaurant dedicated to serving sustainable seafood. In the meantime, the SeaChoice pocket guide is available on their website, so we can all start asking the tough questions of our chefs and fishmongers.

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