Seeking Sustainable Seafood

Monterey Bay Area – When Patrice Boyle opened Soif Wine Bar & Restaurant in downtown Santa Cruz she knew she wanted to serve only sustainable seafood. "I did it because I was aware of the problems with over fishing and un-sustainable fisheries and that sort of thing. So I wanted to bring some attention to it and I didn't want to add to the problem," said Boyle.

She's not alone. A new report by the Seafood Choices Alliance shows 37% of U.S. chain restaurants, fish retailers and wholesalers consider the environment when making seafood choices. That's nearly double what it was in 2001. But the report also found great latitude when it comes to defining sustainability.

"It's a little bit of a challenge sometimes getting the seafood. And you have to be careful. Even we have inadvertently put things on that the chef thought was sustainable. Sometimes a fish from one fishery will be sustainable and the same fish from a different fishery is not sustainable. So we have to work very closely with suppliers to make sure that what we're getting is acceptable," said Boyle.

Boyle follows guidelines set out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program. They're the same guidelines as those found in the color-coded pocket guides aquarium volunteers hand out to visitors. The guides include a green list of best seafood choices, a yellow list of good alternatives and a red list of seafood to avoid.

The Seafood Watch program is frequently updating its six regional pocket guides. When new editions come out in July, the guide for the central U.S. will include lake fish. And Monterey Bay Aquarium spokeswoman Allison Barratt says a Sushi guide is in the works. But the ultimate goal isn't more and better guides.
"As a consumer if you didn't have to have a pocket guide, if the market and the retailers and all of the providers had already done their research and their homework, you could just go in with a clear conscience," said Barratt.

Seafood Watch recently reached an agreement with Aramark, a national food services company. Aramark has committed to purchasing sustainable seafood for all its U.S. operations by 2018. Plus nearly 30 local restaurants have made the same commitment as Soif to serve only seafood found on the yellow good alternatives and green best choices lists.