Ocean Wise celebrated its 5 year anniversary this month by announcing a number of new restaurant partners across the country. Readers who haven’t heard of the Ocean Wise program need not feel out of the loop – it’s only been a year since a handful of Toronto restaurants signed on, and while this anniversary celebration included some of the newest Toronto-area restaurants to join, the total still numbers under a dozen.
Created as a conservation program by the Vancouver Aquarium, it makes sense that the majority of restaurants involved in the sustainable seafood program are in British Columbia. While Torontonians have been on the sustainability bandwagon for a few years now, that same diligence seems not to apply to fish, an item that regularly hits our plates without any concern as to how it got there or where it came from.
Indeed, both chefs and home cooks have a hard time tracking the true origins, and sometimes even species, of the fish they’re cooking. This can often lead to a cheaper fish being used in place of something expensive and revered, or unsustainable, at-risk species being sold under a different name.
The premise of Ocean Wise is to promote sustainable seafood – species that are abundant and resilient to fishing pressure; are harvested in ways that limit by-catch, especially of endangered species; are managed as part of a comprehensive plan based on current research; and are harvested using methods that reduce damage to ocean habitats. Essentially, fish that are either farmed in a healthy and manageable manner such as scallops, oysters, mussels, and lobster, or fish that are line- or net-caught with extra care, Pacific black cod and ling cod being two examples.
Ocean Wise is a national program working with businesses in 7 provinces and over 15 cities from Vancouver to Halifax, with over 200 participating members that range from restaurants and fish markets to culinary schools. Ocean Wise fish is served at high-end restaurants, but also pubs, fish and chip stands and university cafeterias.
The benefit of shopping or dining at an Ocean Wise partnered establishment is that the customer knows that the fish available have all been sustainably sourced; menus of Ocean Wise partners include the Ocean Wise logo beside the dishes that include sustainable fish. The guesswork of choosing a fish that is sustainable has been taken out of the transaction. Chefs also appreciate this option, because they can create a seafood menu around the choices offered to them by an Ocean Wise certified supplier, without worrying that they might be serving something that is endangered or that contributes to the destruction of ocean habitat on the way to their kitchen.
In Toronto, the following restaurants take part in the Ocean Wise program:
Yes, it’s a small list that needs to grow significantly. During a media event last week that featured a roving dinner at several of the establishments listed above, I spoke with Kara Peet of Organic Ocean, one of the suppliers involved with Ocean Wise, about why Toronto diners and restaurants were so ambivalent about this issue. We couldn’t really come up with a good reason as to why Torontonians are not up in arms about seafood sustainability as we often are about local food and other issues of sustainability on land. Suffice to say that we all need to get with the Ocean Wise program and start demanding sustainable fish from every restaurant we frequent.