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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
If the fish/shellfish is wild caught, you should
If the fish/shellfish was farmed you should ask:
- 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.
- 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.
- Highly overfished species, include: Groupers,
Swordfish, Black Sea Bass, Rockfish and most Snappers.
- Abundant or well managed species include:
Striped Bass, some Crabs, Alaskan Salmon, Oysters,
Herrings, Sardines, Anchovies, Mackerel, Mahimahi,
Mussels, Alaskan Halibut, and Pacific Albacore.
- 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.
- Species with High Bycatch include: trawled
shrimp, Patagonian Toothfish, Orange Roughy, Oreo
Dory, dredged Clams, and Scallops.
- 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”
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- Fish farmed in netpens or cages and
open systems include: most Salmon, Trout and Shrimp.
- b. Fish farmed in a less polluting manner
include: Catfish, Oysters, Clams, Scallops, and
- 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.
- Mostly vegetarian species include Catfish, Tilapia,
Some of the more Abundant, Well Managed or Sustainably
Raised Species include:
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.
- Hook and Line caught Atlantic Cod
- Striped Bass
- Alaskan Salmon
- Trap Caught Spot Prawns
- Atlantic Northern Pink shrimp
- Farmed Clams, Mussels, Oysters and Scallops
- Alaskan Halibut
- Farmed Crawfish
- Pacific Cod
- Line caught Albacore
- Alaskan Black Cod
- Blue Crab, Stone Crab and Dungeness Crab
- Closed system Farmed Trout and Tilapia
- Herring, Anchovies and Sardines
- Pacific Hake
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:
1. Seafood Solutions: A Chef’s Guide to Ecologically
Responsible Fish Procurement, Chefs Collaborative, www.chefnet.com/cc2000
2. Seafood Lover’s Almanac, National Audubon Society,
3. Murkey Waters: Environmental Effects of Aquaculture
in the United States, Environmental Defense, www.environmentaldedense.org
4. Danger at Sea: Our Changing Ocean, Seaweb, www.seaweb.org
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...