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Ann Cooper
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Seafood Solutions:
The Questions Chefs Need to Ask When Purchasing Seafood
In the past decade or two, chefs across America have come to understand the peril that many small-scale farmers are in and the fragility of our heirloom and specialty food supplies. Many of us have come to demand and expect regional, seasonal and organic or natural produce, fruit and even meat and poultry. We have come to espouse the flavors, textures and nuances of these wonderful products, naming them on our menus, supporting and promoting the farmers and producers, and educating our staff, peers and guests as to their importance.

I believe that the next phase of this trend is toward fish and shellfish. In the past five years we have been hearing about depleted wild fish stocks. We have often been told about the inherent challenges of fish farming and in the past few years have seen numerous fish species added to the endangered species list. In the past year numerous organizations have produced booklets and guides to help us understand these issues and make strides towards more sustainable seafood purchasing.

The following questions are ones that you might ask yourself when purchasing seafood. These questions are meant to be a roadmap and a guide, not a set of rules, for as chefs we need to balance a sustainable restaurant and bottom line with our beliefs in a sustainable environment and resource.

If the fish/shellfish is wild caught, you should ask:

  1. Where was it captured? Are the fisheries there well managed or are the stocks of the fish depleted. The Audubon Seafood Lovers Almanac and the Chefs Collaborative Seafood Solutions, both have this type of information. Many fish, such as cod, Pollock, flounders, halibut, sole and plaice, are relatively abundant in the pacific, but depleted in the Atlantic.
    1. Protective management is needed to ensure the survival of slow-growing fish that breed late in life such as: Sharks, Skates, Rockfish, Patagonian Toothfish (Chilean Seabass) and Orange Roughy.
    2. Highly overfished species, include: Groupers, Swordfish, Black Sea Bass, Rockfish and most Snappers.
    3. Abundant or well managed species include: Striped Bass, some Crabs, Alaskan Salmon, Oysters, Herrings, Sardines, Anchovies, Mackerel, Mahimahi, Mussels, Alaskan Halibut, and Pacific Albacore.

  2. How was it caught? Did its capture result in large amounts of accidental bycatch? Non-selective fishing methods such as trawl nets, purse-seine nets and longlines (dozens of miles with hundreds of hooks) can capture and kill non-targeted species. Additionally, gill nets, purse seines and bottom trawling can all result in high bycatch. Most bycatch consists of dead fish and animals (including birds and turtles) thrown back into the sea.
    1. Species with High Bycatch include: trawled shrimp, Patagonian Toothfish, Orange Roughy, Oreo Dory, dredged Clams, and Scallops.
    2. Low Bycatch Species include: Lobsters, rod and reel caught Yellowfin Tuna, pole-caught Skipjack Tuna, Trolled Albacore Tuna, non-dredged Clams, Mussels, Oysters and certified “Turtle-Safe” Shrimp.

  3. Was it captured in a way that damages ocean eco-systems? Hydraulic dredges can seriously degrade ocean floor habitats, as can bottom-scraping trawl gear.
    1. a. Fish captured utilizing technologies that may damage ocean eco-systems include: dredged Clams, Oysters, Scallops, and Mussels as well as bottom-scraping trawled Shrimp, Flounder and Monkfish.
If the fish/shellfish was farmed you should ask:
  1. Was it raised in a netpen or other potentially polluting system? These types of systems may discharge large amounts of untreated wastewater that often pollutes the waterways.
    1. Fish farmed in netpens or cages and open systems include: most Salmon, Trout and Shrimp.
    2. b. Fish farmed in a less polluting manner include: Catfish, Oysters, Clams, Scallops, and Mussels.

  2. Is it carnivorous or mostly vegetarian. At present, 15% of the global seafood catch is converted into fishmeal to feed farmed fish each year. It takes approximately three pounds of wild caught fish to grow one pound of shrimp or salmon.
    1. Mostly vegetarian species include Catfish, Tilapia, and mollusks.

Some of the more Abundant, Well Managed or Sustainably Raised Species include:
  1. Hook and Line caught Atlantic Cod
  2. Striped Bass
  3. Catfish
  4. Alaskan Salmon
  5. Mahimahi
  6. Trap Caught Spot Prawns
  7. Atlantic Northern Pink shrimp
  8. Farmed Clams, Mussels, Oysters and Scallops
  9. Alaskan Halibut
  10. Farmed Crawfish
  11. Pacific Cod
  12. Line caught Albacore
  13. Alaskan Black Cod
  14. Blue Crab, Stone Crab and Dungeness Crab
  15. Closed system Farmed Trout and Tilapia
  16. Herring, Anchovies and Sardines
  17. Pacific Hake
  18. Mackeral
In closing I would like to stress that all of us need to educate ourselves as to the intricacies of the seafood issues. We need to question our seafood supplies, talk to our seafood suppliers, educate our customers and most of all to understand that fish and shellfish are a renewable resource, but only if we respect and cherish it.

The above information was compiled from the Chefs Collaborative’s, Seafood Solutions, National Audubon’s Seafood Lovers Almanac and Bitter Harvest by Ann Cooper.

A few Resources of Note:
. Seafood Solutions: A Chef’s Guide to Ecologically Responsible Fish Procurement, Chefs Collaborative,
2. Seafood Lover’s Almanac, National Audubon Society,
3. Murkey Waters: Environmental Effects of Aquaculture in the United States, Environmental Defense,
4. Danger at Sea: Our Changing Ocean, Seaweb,

Ann Cooper, CEC, Executive Chef of The Ross School in East Hampton, New York is the author of A Woman's Place is in the Kitchen, and Bitter Harvest: A Chef's Perspective on the Hidden Dangers in the Foods We Eat and What We Can do About It (Routledge, June 2000). Read More of Ann Cooper's publications...

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