BY Rick Moonen and Clare Leschin-Hoar
and tuna. We love it for its satisfying flaky pink flesh and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and because it’s easy to prepare.
While nearly 90 percent of the salmon we consume is actually farm
raised (which has its own troubling problems, like sea-lice infestations
or pollution caused by open-net caging practices), the closing of salmon
fishing in part of what’s affectionately known as “Salmon Nation” was
loud and clear to anyone who stopped to listen to the alarm bells.
Go Ahead and Grill ’Em: How to
Ask Those Burning Questions
There’s no argument that fish is complex and confusing. Before taking
that first bite, we encourage you to ask questions.
Photograph: Carole Topalian
y all accounts, it was a disaster.
In May 2008, when commercial salmon fishing should have begun along the California and Oregon coasts, the season was canceled
for the first time in its history. There simply were not enough wild king
salmon left to push and grapple their way upstream. But it didn’t come
as a complete surprise. There were gloomy signs of this in the fall, when
counts of young adult fish were low. Very low. These young fish, called
jacks, usually number near 157,000 along the Sacramento River. This
time officials had counted only 6,000. The stocks had collapsed.
But would the crash be loud enough to provide the wake-up call
most Americans needed to start thinking more about that tasty pink
filet sitting proudly in the middle of their dinner plate?
Salmon ranks third in popularity of seafood, right behind shrimp
Here are some of the best questions you can pose:
What type of fish is it? Is that tuna overfished blue
fin or albacore, the better choice?
• Where was it caught? Is it halibut caught in the
Pacific, where it’s still well managed, or is it an
Atlantic halibut, which is in dire need of relief ?
• How was it caught? Was the fish caught using
a hookline, a good choice, or a longline, which
sounds similar, but can run 60 miles in length and
has tens of thousands of hooks?
• Was the fish farmed? If so, how? Was it raised in
open-net ocean pens, which carry the risk of sealice infestation, pollution and escape? Or was it
farmed in a closed circulating system?
• Is the fish vegetarian or carnivorous? Did it take
four pounds of ground fish meal to produce that
one pound of farm-raised fish? If so, that’s a good
one to avoid.
While the questions can seem straightforward, there are
plenty of opportunities for confusion. One type of fish
can go by many different names, and, what’s worse, fish
are frequently mislabeled.
There are plenty of handy pocket guides to help assist you with decision-making, too. Our favorite is the
list put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood
Watch program, which is updated twice a year. Fish are
listed regionally and are divided into three columns:
best choices, good alternatives and avoid.
We also like the Blue Ocean Institute’s “Guide to
Ocean Friendly Seafood”; the pocket “Seafood Selector,”
by the Environmental Defense Fund; and the Seafood
Choices Alliance guides. Each can give slightly different
advice, so the more you educate yourself on the issues,
the more confident you’ll be at the fish counter.
Diversify Your Eating
One of the best ways to eat fish that’s healthy for you and
more environmentally sound is to diversify your eating
habits. We all like tuna, shrimp and salmon, but think
about these items as a special-occasion meal instead of
everyday nourishment. After all, there are other tasty
fish in the sea.
For example, substitute farm-raised Arctic char for
Atlantic salmon, or check out wild-caught sockeye salmon from Alaska,
which is plentiful and well managed. Oysters are a terrific option, too.
Not only are they farmed sustainably, but they also help keep our coastal
waters clean as they grow. Seek out and purchase U.S.-farmed shrimp
over less sustainably raised alternatives. Sardines, anchovies, mackerel
and most smaller fish, both fresh and canned, are abundant and are
low on the food chain, which means unlike tuna or swordfish, they’re
less likely to contain mercury while still providing you with plenty of
omega-3s. Even better, you’ll be consuming fish that can reproduce at a
younger age. Another step is to choose vegetarian-farmed seafood such
as tilapia, catfish, abalone and sturgeon.
Making good choices about seafood means you’ll need some understanding of how the fish is raised or caught, and how it is handled
afterward. It’s also about keeping abreast of current news. For example,
imported farm-raised shrimp from Asia has played a large role in destroying millions of acres of important mangroves, which protect shoreline and habitat, and the trawling methods used to catch shrimp kill
more than 1.8 million tons of marine life each year, including sharks
and turtles. Recently, restrictions were imposed by the FDA on Chinese-raised shrimp, catfish, eel, basa and dace, which had traces of carcinogenic chemicals. But the FDA is considering loosening those restrictions, which means that your role in asking questions about where your
seafood is from and how it is raised is still crucial.
Pathways to Activism
We agree that voting with your fork is a powerful way to reach the ears
of the restaurateur or fishmonger who is making the initial fish purchase
and helps create awareness with the public, but Mark Powell, vice president of fish conservation at the Ocean Conservancy, argues that in the
end, it’s not all that effective. “People who are willing to self-sacrifice
say, ‘I’m going to deny myself the pleasure of eating this fish because
I’m ethically sound,’” he notes. “It’s something they can do, but the real
question is, does it help?”
What needs to change, says Powell,
is the real issue of bottom trawling, a
method of dragging heavy nets across
the seafloor used by large industrial
fishing operations. Bottom trawling destroys hundreds of square miles
of important habitat and deep-sea coral and fish every day. It is devastating to the sea environment and results in high levels of by-catch and
“Put it this way,” says Powell, “If you choose not to eat a contaminated food product, you’re exerting your values and you feel good about
reducing contamination. It’s meaningful on an individual scale, and that
makes sense. I’m not going to eat farmed salmon because I don’t think
there should be fish farms in the ocean. But if you’re trying to send a
From Fish Without a Doubt, by
Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore
Makes about 24 fritters
For the dipping sauce:
⅓ cup fish sauce
⅓ cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 small habañero chile, cut into
thin rings (or 2 serranos,
minced, with seeds)
Stir the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar,
garlic and chile together in a small
bowl. Let the sauce sit for at least 30
minutes to allow the flavors to meld.
For the fritters:
2 large eggs
⅓ cup cold seltzer or club soda
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
¾ cup self-rising cake flour, plus more if needed (NOTE: You can
substitute regular cake flour, but add ½ teaspoon baking powder
and ¼ teaspoon coarse salt.)
1¼ pounds large shrimp (21-30 count), shelled and chopped, or 1
pound rock shrimp
½ cup red onion, minced
½ cup red bell pepper, minced
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Peanut or vegetable oil for deep frying
Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl to break them up. Pour in the seltzer or club soda and lime juice and whisk until smooth. The mixture
will foam up. Add the flour and whisk until you have a smooth batter.
Stir in the shrimp, onion, red pepper and cilantro.
Heat at least 3 inches of oil in a wide, deep pot (a cast-iron Dutch
oven is ideal) to 350 to 365 degrees. Set a rack over a baking sheet
next to the stove.
When the oil is hot, drop in heaping tablespoons of batter. Don’t
crowd them or the oil temperature will drop too much and the fritters
will be greasy. Fry the fritters, turning them with a spider or slotted
spoon so they cook evenly, until golden brown and cooked through,
about 3 minutes. Remove with the spider spoon to the rack to drain.
Spoon out any little bits of fritter from the oil before adding the next
If the fritters really break apart when you add them to the oil, it
means the batter is a bit too thin, so stir in another tablespoon or two
of flour.
For serving:
1 head Boston or other tender lettuce
Fresh mint or cilantro leaves
To serve, set out the bowl of sauce. Pile the fritters onto a platter and
surround with the lettuce leaves and a pile of herb leaves so everyone
can wrap a fritter and some herb leaves in lettuce and dip into the
signal to the world that results in less harm from salmon
farms, that tactic may not work. It’s not as simple as taking it down to a species level. If we’re going to get bottom
trawling stopped, it’s through political action.”
He has a point.
Brad Ack, regional director for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), believes that expressing your political views through your pocketbook is just a different form
of activism. “What’s important is being aware that there
is great disparity in the worldwide fisheries. Being an informed consumer about the fish you buy, and asking for
and demanding sustainability, is very important for the
longer-term health of our oceans and fisheries. Don’t just
assume that because it’s being sold that it’s good to buy,”
he says.
For those who want to make a statement with their purchasing power, groups like the MSC make it easy by putting their stamp of approval on sustainable fisheries. MSC
certifies seafood like Oregon pink shrimp, all five species of
Alaskan salmon and Pacific Cod.
But MSC-certified seafood isn’t always easy to find. For
many of us, the time we spend contemplating the selection
at the local market may just have gotten longer as we try
and work out which fish is not only best for dinner, but the
best choice all around. 2
A nationally recognized champion of the sustainable seafood
movement, Rick Moonen is chef and co-owner of RM Seafood
at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and
author of “Fish Without a Doubt.” He lectures frequently on
the topic of fish and ocean conservation.
Freelance writer Clare Leschin-Hoar frequently covers issues
surrounding sustainable seafood. Her work has appeared in The
Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and other publications.
Read more at www.leschin-hoar.com.
How to get involved?
Here are some groups eager for your help:
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program: www.seafoodwatch.org
Ocean Conservancy: www.oceanconservancy.org
SeaWeb: www.seaweb.org
Seafood Choice Alliance: www.seafoodchoices.com
Marine Stewardship Council: www.msc.org
Blue Ocean Institute: www.blueocean.org
Environmental Defense Fund: www.edf.org
Recommended Reading:
“Bottom Feeder, How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood,” by
Taras Grescoe
“End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat,”
by Charles Clover
“Tuna, a Love Story,” by Richard Ellis
“Fish Without a Doubt,” by Rick Moonen
“Fish Forever,” by Paul Johnson
The Better Fish
Looking for a more ethical and healthy fish choice for your next party? Try Australis Barramundi. This thick, mild, white fish native to Australia is now sustainably raised at an indoor aquaculture facility in western Massachusetts. Ask your
local valley grocer or butcher for Australis Barramundi today!
From Fish Without
a Doubt, by Rick
Moonen and Roy
Char and rainbow
trout make great
burgers. You can also
try bluefish, striped
bass or swordfish.
4 pita breads
Olive oil
1½ pounds skinless
wild salmon filet, chilled in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes
½ cup red bell pepper, diced
½ cup green bell pepper, diced
¼ cup scallions, chopped
¼ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground white pepper
1 large egg white, whipped to soft peaks
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
Photograph: Carole Topalian
For serving:
1 ripe beefsteak tomato, cored and cut into 4 thick slices
Green tartar sauce (below)
A handful of tender salad greens
Heat the broiler. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, coat each side
of the pita breads with a thin layer of olive oil. Place on the broiler
rack and broil for about 2 minutes, until brown. Turn and broil another 2 minutes. Wrap in a kitchen towel.
Sharpen your knife and cut the salmon into a fine dice. Place the
salmon in a medium bowl. Add the bell peppers, scallions and cream
and combine gently with your hands. Season with Tabasco, salt and
white pepper. Gently fold in ¼ cup of the beaten egg white. Form
into 4 patties.
Heat the canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high
heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the burgers. Lower the heat to
medium and put ½ teaspoon butter next to each burger. Cook for 3
minutes, and flip until browned. Cook for another 2 minutes or until
nicely browned on the second side.
Split the pita breads open. Set each burger on one pita half and top
with a slice of tomato, a dollop of tartar sauce, some of the greens and
the other pita half.
Green Tartar Sauce
Makes about 2½ cups
This sauce is best made ahead. Letting it sit in the refrigerator for about
24 hours gives the flavors time to develop.
¼ cup cornichons, chopped
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 medium shallot, coarsely chopped
2 cups mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1½ heaping tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 heaping tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 heaping tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
¼ cup olive oil
Drop the cornichons, capers and shallot into a food processor. Process for a few seconds just to combine. Add the mayonnaise, mustard,
herbs, lemon juice and white pepper and process for about 8 seconds
to blend well. Scrape down the sides. With the motor running, add
the oil in a slow, steady stream.
Scrape the tartar sauce into an airtight container, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.