Sustainable Seafood


I blame it all on my nephew.

Around the time that he was born, earlier this year, something clicked and I decided to take the whole sustainable seafood thing seriously: if he and his unborn cousins are to enjoy a long life full of lobster tails and skate wings, it is up to me to make informed and responsible choices now.

I had heard of the depletion of the oceans before, but I don’t think I had quite realized how dire the situation is: fish populations the world over are threatened by overfishing, overconsumption, pollution, and fishing techniques that wreak havoc in local ecosystems. If we don’t change our ways fast, major fish species may become extinct as early as 2050.

Like all environmental problems, this is an abysmally complex one, with multitudinous causes, implications, side effects, and collateral damages. And if you factor in other, equally pressing concerns, such as levels of mercury, PCB, and other contaminants, as well as the need to favor locally sourced ingredients, it all becomes rather overwhelming, befuddling, discouraging, check all that apply. Not everyone aspires to become an expert in marine matters, and not everyone has the time or inclination to decode what the experts are saying.

We just want to eat fish and be merry.

It is perhaps tempting then to sit on one’s hands and say, well, I’m just the one consumer, I can’t change the world, and that slab of red tuna on the fish stall or on the menu is already out of the water anyway, so I might as well eat it.

But no; it is best to let that slab of red tuna sit there, uneaten, for it is very much a chicken-or-egg (or rather, a fish-or-roe) matter. As much as we would want them to, restaurants and fish markets aren’t in the business of saving the planet; they’re in the business of making their customers happy.

And if what makes you happy is to feel sure that the fish you buy has been fished or farmed sustainably — that is to say, in a way that ensures that the fish population will be maintained or increased, and that the ecosystem it belongs to is protected — then it will become financially profitable for fish vendors and restaurateurs to care.

So, what to do, what to do?

First of all, you can get a pocket seafood guide that indicates the species you can eat, and those that you should avoid; the list varies depending on the region of the world where you live, and where the fish you can buy comes from. These guidelines are likely to change over time as seafood stocks evolve, so it’s a good idea to get the freshest edition available.

The WWF links to seafood guides for European countries, the Monteray Bay Aquarium offers several for the United States, and this site lists a few more.

I’ve printed a copy of the French version for my purse, to use at the restaurant and at the poissonnerie, and I keep another one on the fridge, to use as a cheat sheet when I’m considering recipes.

(In passing, one feature that would be handy to find in such guides is a substitution chart that would say, “If your recipe calls for [species to avoid], consider using [sustainable alternative] instead.”.)

The pocket guide is a good start but, as a black-and-white view of a situation that has many shades of grey, it is not the magic shield one could hope for. Fish comes in so many varieties and under so many different names that the list cannot possibly be exhaustive, and imprecise labelling — when it is not intentional mislabelling — is a frequent hurdle on the responsible eater’s path.

The only option then is to ask questions, whether at the fish counter or at the restaurant: what kind of fish is it, where does it come from, how was it farmed/caught?

Admittedly, this is not the easiest thing to do — especially in France, where vendors and waiters are known to get defensive, and where well-intentioned curiosity is occasionally met with a take-it-or-leave-it-mademoiselle attitude. The trick is to adopt just the right tone so as not to sound high-and-mighty, yet make it clear how important it is to you.

One can only hope that, if enough consumers show concern, fish vendors and restaurant owners will be just as inquisitive with their suppliers — if only to get us to shut up.

Lastly, an important thing we can all do is spread the word. A small portion of the public is even aware that there is a problem in the first place and, as eager cooks, as passionate eaters, we are in a position to alert and inform our friends, family, coworkers, and, if we happen to run a food blog*, our readers. I’m not suggesting the soapbox approach — has that ever worked for anyone? — but rather gentle nudges and offhand remarks, at the restaurant and at the shop, in the kitchen and at the table.

What about you? How do you deal with the sustainable seafood dilemma? Do you have resources, strategies, or thoughts to share on how to make better choices?

Recommended reading and resources:
– A series of posts written by an Australian marine ecologist.
A Chef’s Guide to Sourcing Sustainable Seafood, available for download from Chefs Collaborative.
– An online compilation of international seafood guides.
– The Monteray Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
The Oceans Today on the Marine Stewardship Council’s website.
– The Marine Conservation Society’s FishOnline website.
– The Environmental Defense Fund’s seafood selector.

* If you have a food blog, consider participating in the upcoming edition of Teach a Man to Fish this October. Teach a Man to Fish is a food blogging event that promotes sustainable seafood; don’t miss the wrap-up of last year’s edition.

  • I think it’s too late.

    Most of the abundant species in the waters here (Atlantic Canada) have almost completely disappeared. There has been a profound change within my lifetime, and there was a profound change before that within my grandfather’s lifetime. He used to tell me stories of walking to a nearby river and filling a potato sack with salmon pulled from the river with a pitchfork. By then salmon was almost gone from our rivers, and cod was almost gone from our oceans.

    Since then, the lesser species that fishing fleets used to not even bother to fish have begun to disappear.

    I think we have perceptual problems arising from the change being very gradual – it seems as though recent change has been small. But the more accurate perspective would consider change over the last 100 years, and realize that it has been profound, is accelerating, and for all practical purposes, is irreversible and unstoppable.

  • Bravo!…fab post.

  • I think some of the problem is that people not only see inexpensive salmon and buy it. But it’s also available and seemingly abundant. Like people don’t believe there’s a water shortage as long as there’s water flowing out of their tap.

    Luckily many of the varieties of fish that are on the ‘Yes’ list are not only the healthiest, but inexpensive as well. I’ve developed quite a fondness for fresh sardines and don’t miss red tuna one bit.

    Ok, well—maybe a little…

  • I’m on board with you to do whatever I can to help change today’s practices.

  • Tine

    Mostly, I deal with the problem by not eating fish. I love it, and still have a soft spot for tuna years after I’ve given up boycotting it (for ten years! I was a very principled teenager.), but I’m a sucker for quality yet have no money, so fish is only on the menu ~twice a month anyway. Whenever I can afford it, I try to buy fish from sustainable populations, and I tend to prefer fish from farms because they have no impact on the wild populations at all, though God knows Canadian “wild” salmon beats all, taste-wise. Whenever I buy canned tuna, I try not to get the cheapest kind but one with some kind of green label. I spend about 8 months a year in Germany, where this is actually possible – every time I come back to France, I’m gobsmacked by the sheer nothingness of bio-products and -produce. On Sunday, I tried to get an organic lemon at the local marché – not such a hard thing to come by, surely, considering how many lemons the greater Paris region must consume daily for baking alone – but none of the nine veggie stalls that haven’t fled to the countryside had one. Most of the sellers didn’t even know if their lemons were organic or not, they had to it look up on the lemon-crates. (They also gave me the evil eye, especially when I bought something else and then got the produce out of the horrible plastic bags and left those there. My girlfriend almost died of shame.)

    All of which was a long-winded way of saying: I drastically cut down on eating anything that can’t be regrown as local as possible, regarding fish that means that any and all fish has become a luxury, be it smoked salmon, maguro sushi, or a fish dish.

  • Melanie

    Excellent post – a timely reminder for me to request a copy of the “Good Fish” list. For a great reference on seafood, and good advice on substitutions, have a look at The River Cottage Fish Book, it’s fabulous – very much conservation-minded, but also full of tasty recipes (no, I don’t work for the publisher, I’m just, like many other green-minded British cooks, a little bit in love with one of the authors, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall!)


  • Rachel

    I think this is an incredibly important issue, thank you for posting about it! I happen to think it is not too late and that if enough people choose to be conscious consumers things will change for the better. Biodiversity, when helped along by humans staying out of the way and eliminating pollution, has a way of retuning to even the most desolate areas. Thank you for this timely and very well written post. BRAVO!

  • As another Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall fan I was also going to recommend the substitutions in the River Cottage Fish Book. I don’t really cook fish because I prefer to eat it in restaurants, it’s one of those things that I don’t get much pleasure from cooking, but it’s a good idea to print off the list for my purse. Thanks!

  • Jessica

    Great post – I’m so happy to see food bloggers post not only about great food but also the environmental concerns around how the food actually becomes food. Whether it’s about how apples are grown and cows are kept or how our oceans are being treated – these are all important issues.

    And yes, our oceans are in a dire situation due to our lack of attention to them. But, there have been many species where conservation has changed things dramatically. Perhaps if people shopped a little smarter and cut back a little, conservation will save our oceans as well.

    Thank you for the post and the information!

  • karen scofield

    I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Salmon is gone. The crab was contaminated last season from a tanker accident, no one was eating that. Northern California is famous for these two things and through the mismanagement of the water ways, what the farmers need and what the fish need, making the right choices at the fish counter are more important then ever.

  • I use the site from the Monteray Bay Aquarium and stay as up to date as possible. I also tell others about the issues. As the first poster said, it may already be too late but we do what we can as long as we are able.

  • I think this is an important issue, and I’ve written a little about it too. I’m concerned about the environmental aspects, but I’m even more concerned about toxin levels. I love shellfish, and that tends to be better for the environment and lower in toxins in general. FishPhone, a service of the Blue Ocean Institute, is a great resource. You just text them with the name of the fish in question, and they instantly send you an analysis. I use it whenever I go to Whole Foods and spot some seafood that looks good. Sorry you can’t use it from France!

  • gingerpale

    I think everybody should re-read the first and last sentence of *comment #1*.
    Then Clotilde’s warning against this kind of thinking:
    “…already out of the water anyway, so I might as well eat it.”
    (Wrong! Don’t buy it and they won’t fish for it in the future!)

    It’s literally a crying shame, and only ourselves to blame, now that we know.

  • I avoid fish and almost all meats for this reason (and others), but it makes for difficult dinner parties.

    On the other topic, CONGRATULATIONS on becoming an auntie! If you mentioned it before I missed it.

  • dory

    I am sad to say this, but I think that substituting species is not enough. I believe that the oceans are over-fished. I have heard from reputable sources that at least in the top layer of the ocean where we fish, there may be a 90% reduction in fish levels compared to 100 years ago. A friend of mine who is in her 80s told me that she lived in Los Angeles as a child. There used to be schools of small fish (I forget the species) that would come in close to shore at certain times of the year, and they were so abundant that people would run out and catch them with their hands. Now they haven’t been seen for decades. I believe that the same thing would happen with other species in Lake Michigan– near where I live. No longer.

    I do believe that fish farmed out of the ocean, like catfish and tilapia are fine. I have mixed feelings about farmed salmon, as I have heard that salmon farms cause environmental damage that affects wild salmon populations.I am also concerned that overfishing by wealthy countries–especially Japan is depleting the few fish populations that are still feeding people in low income coastal areas who have no other source of fish.

    I am sorry to sound so gloomy and puritanical, but I am avoiding fish almost entirely. I love to cook and I love to eat, but I am also concerned with the environment. I am reaching the point where I am careful about eating any food that isn’t farmed– even herbs that are gathered in the wild.


  • Fantastic! I actually consult sources like the EDF in order to stay on top of the situation. My fish monger is also an excellent resource and helps me to find the best of my options.

  • For people living in the US, you can also use a free text messaging service to find out about any environmental concerns related to a fish you are considering purchasing. Text “FISH” and the name of the fish in question to 30644, and in under a minute they send you back a text detailing the sustainability of said fish. It paints with broad strokes, but is a good resource when on the move or if you don’t have a printed fish guide.

  • I have no idea if it’s too late. But if we don’t try, it certainly will be too late. I also use a lot less seafood than I used too – partially because I live more inland now, and I want to use raw ingredients that are a lot closer to me; partially because of the cost; partially because of the way fish is fished or farmed. Some farms are terrible for the environment. So when I buy I will get wild-caught if possible – just less often – and also less “popular” fish. Some of the benefits of seafood (abundance of Omega-3 acids vs. Omega 6 acids) is actually lost in farming fish. BUT: we eat only pastured raised and finished meat (beef, poultry & pork), or wild game, and their Omega-3 acid profile is so much more favorable than feed-lot animals and farm-raised fish.

    Thanks for bringing the issue up Clotilde.

    One plate at a time!

  • Jen

    Even though I have shopped with a Monterey Bay aquarium pocket sized ‘Seafood Watch’ card for over a year I feel as if I’m not doing enough. It is a really hard situation- should I stop eating fish entirely even though it is very healthy (and tasty) because of overfishing? I have thought about it. I think I would feel better if fish were better labeled but since there aren’t really any good fishmongers around, I generally by frozen fish (which, according to a recent article in the Washington Post, has a much smaller carbon footprint than fresh so at least I feel a little better about that) that is somewhat murky about its source. I hope more consumers will demand to know how, when and where their fish was caught and this will make the producers change their ways.

  • Great article!

    I am the marine ecologist from Australia who you linked to at the end of your post, and I have to say that after giving much thought to this I am starting to share dory’s outlook.

    I truly love to eat fresh seafood, but I am so concerned by the scale of the damage that we have wrought on many of our fisheries that I have stopped eating almost all fish except for the farmed shellfish, tilapia and catfish.

    I am a strong believer in the idea of sustainably managed fisheries, but I am really worried that we aren’t necessarily managing most of our fisheries sustainably.

    I think that it excellent that people are starting to talk about what we have done (and what we are still doing) to the oceans by overfishing. I hope that if enough of us start to think about the impact of the choices we make at the supermarket or fishmonger we can change these irresponsible fishing methods once and for all.

  • This is quite a good site too.

  • Heidi Gilchrist

    I agree that this is a worrisome issue. I podcast the Good Food program from KCRW in Southern California, and they have had several segments recently about the importance of supporting sustainably farmed or caught fish.

    However, I profess my ignorance on how to cook the “best” fish. Those mentioned on Good Food as being the most eco-friendly and often the healthiest were mostly the small, bottom-of-the-food-chain species. What exactly does one cook with sardines, mackerel, and herring? Are they truly as tasty as salmon and tuna? Clotilde, can you help us?

  • drea

    Great post & links! I (like a previous poster mentioned) carry a Blue Ocean Institute fish card & text message my fish selections at restaurants. But, I have chosen to go from eating fish 4 times weekly to just 1-2x per month – because of the safety + environmental impacts.

    (PS I listen to Good Food weekly – Clotilde, would love to hear you on my favorite podcast)

  • Another solution is farming our own Talapia (all you garden pond owners)They are easy to raise but do better in warm climates.It is sad about our oceans.I get very upset when I think about the garbage and poisons in my Pacific Ocean.

  • SAS

    One thing that can help change this situation is the way we think — collectively. If we all believe that we can eat fish and that they oceans will flow again with species that are now threatened, it CAN happen. While no one wants to see the oceans depleted of any of its splendid creatures, we do have to recognize that as the world changes (climatically, economically, populuation of humans) – so will the oceans. If we can all educate ourselves and use the resources listed by Clotilde and some of our bloggers, WOW! What a great place to start. I love many of the comments, but think Varina (not sure of her #) has a great suggestion. My friends, positive thinking will get the civilizations across the globe farther than negative thoughts. We know it has gone bad, and now the time to make it better has come. If you are reading this you are probably already someone who is environmentally responsible on some level or someone who is willing to be more educated and selective about their seafood choices. Make a point to e-mail this blog entry to at least two others! I challenge you!

  • I’m so glad you’ve raised this issue with your readers. I want to invite you to join chefs, food bloggers around the world, readers and home cooks to join my sustainable seafood blog event in October. Teach a Man to Fish will include Rick Moonen, author of Fish Without a Doubt and Raghavan Iyer – 660 Curries this year!

    I just returned from Alaska with Lia Huber and Carolyn Jung – where conservationists helped clarify the salmon question. Wild Alaskan Salmon is the key, and Copper River rocks!

    I invite you and your readers to help us Teach a Man to Fish. Our nephews and nieces will be able to enjoy the bounty of the sea – only if we are responsible stewards.

    Jacqueline Church
    The Leather District Gourmet

  • Simeon

    Well said Dory. There needs to be a revolution on how people view the oceans, it’s like out of sight/out of mind for many people, all the problems hidden beneath the shimmering surface. Fish farms are often mismanaged and cause extensive environmental damage.

    Another thing that needs to be tackled urgently is European fishing fleets going on extended missions to African waters in factory ships that take an uncontrolled amount of fish from their seas. This has a very detrimental impact, which is being seen now in the waves of poor Africans risking their lives to reach Spain and Italy in small boats, and others taking even more risks hiding in the back of lorries to get to other parts of Europe. These people have been driven away from their coastal towns because there’s no more fish, they try to make a living out of farming but are not skilled in that area, so they see their only option is to come to Europe and try their chances here.

    I come from a coastal village in Ireland that has traditionally made it’s living from fishing, now the seas around here cannot support an industry like that and there are no more trawlers. I stopped buying and eating fish about 10 years ago. There is also a growing community of African refugees living here.

    What makes me mad is so called “vegetarians” that won’t eat animals because they think it’s cruel, but will happily eat fish. Animals are farmed, fish in general are not. If the supermarkets started selling wild tiger or elephant meat, there would be an outcry. Why can they continue to sell fish?

  • Alisa

    Wow!!! Wonderful post!
    And a belated Happy Birthday!!!! (I have been away a lot)
    bisous bisous bisous

  • lientje

    I shop at a fishmonger (the best in Ghent, for anyone from around here, is Meersschaut) who only aims at selling seasonal fish and even refuses to sell fish delivered to him that for instance is supposed to be mating at that time.

    Plus, our newspaper (De Standaard) publishes a weekly overview of what’s in season, be it fish, vegetables, fruit, cheese, or meat- as obviously this matter also concerns the other food we eat…

  • li

    Excellent post Clotilde!
    Maybe we all need to expect less on our plate. Adopt a “eat to stop feeling hungry but not to feel full” attitude?
    A month ago, I decided to give up farmed meat — this includes free range and organic, because I feel we are not doing enough in managing our land sustainably and I don’t believe “good” produce should be afforded by only the rich.
    I think sustainability is a multi-faceted issue. We have to consider ways to feed our growing global population and control famine without “raping” our land and oceans

  • dory

    I agree with Simeon. I have two dogs, and would agree that it seems “easier” in my mammal-centered world to eat a shrimp than to eat a mammal, or even another warm-blooded animal like a bird. ONe of my brothers is a vegetarian who makes “exceptions” for fish, and, in particular, eats a great deal of Alaskan wild salmon. I am sadly not in agreement with him. I believe that, depending on how they are raised and treated, animals that are farmed are much more sustainable than animals caught in the wild. It is, in the end, “kinder” I think, to eat sustainably, even if it means other mammals.

    This is what I am doing. I eat vegetarian most of the time. I try to find meat that is raised sustainably. In the U.S. Whole Foods has a fairly good corporate policy about where it gets its meat from, although I agree that the chain has not gotten its nickname “Whole Paycheck” for nothing. I, personally, have relegated fish to the “special treat” category of my diet, rather than have it as an everyday meal. I recognize that this is easier for me to do than for many readers of this blog, because I live in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. When I was a child fish from the Great Lakes was abundant and fresh. REcently I am seeing almost none, and the ocean fish available in stores here–even high end stores, just doesn’t seem as fresh and as nice as fish on the coasts. Temptation would be stronger if I lived on the ocean. However, I truly believe that, in the case of fish we all have to eat less–not just eat differently. Maybe if people from wealthy countries eat fish (much) less often the populations will come back, and our children’s children can have cod for dinner again, but within reason.


  • Ann

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have printed the quide and will us it.

  • Weston

    Two Sustainable Seafood Organizations that run in Vancouver Canada here is Ocean Wise run by the Vancouver Aquarium, and Seachoice sponsored by david Suzuki foundation. Locally in vancovuer alot of restaurants only run Sustainable and Organic.

    Weston Nawrocki
    Sous Chef
    A Kettle of Fish
    Vancouver, Canada

  • This is a really difficult concept to adopt. It’s easy to do it with my diamonds, but to have to put so much thought into the fish on my plate will take some adjusting. However, in the spirt of being socially conscious, why not?

  • chris

    Safe seafood is still available for the everyday consumer. For the first time there is a company that doesn’t rely on only the age or location of the fish caught to claim that it is lower in mercury than FDA action levels. Safe Harbor guarantees that the fish it certifies is lower than FDA action levels because it tests every large fin fish released under the Safe Harbor brand. For the first time I am 100% confident about the safety of the seafood I eat and buy for my family. In addition, this company works with seafood processing and distribution facilities to try and obtain solely sustainable seafoods! All their mercury certification levels are available online, along with details about their testing process and where their product is available at
    Check them out and enjoy the health benefits of seafood without worry!

  • Thank you Clotilde! You’re absolutely right, we have to make sustainable choices.

    I’ve discovered that one of most important thing one can do is to stay optimistic. Realizing how threatened our oceans are can be very discouraging, even paralyzing. I know because I work for the landlocked Oklahoma Aquarium and my research has at times depressed the heck out of me. Jacques Cousteau said, “In the sea, we act like barbarians.” And he is right, but even though this is a large problem does mean that things are hopeless. There are many species of fish that we can save with our choices now!

    Monterey Bay has the most comprehensive information on their website for the US. If you are shy like me, they even have discrete info cards you can leave with your check at your favorite restaurants. (Also they are about to launch a new sushi fish guide.) Last, MB’s site is just plain interesting… did you know Orange Roughy can live over 150 years and can take 30 years to mature?
    PS: Salmon Farms are not sustainable yet. Check out to find out why.

  • Great post, I’ll certainly start thinking more about what fish I buy.

  • Thanks for such an influential and thought-provoking post. It’s an issue I’ve come across from time to time, but you (and other people’s responses!) have really illuminated some of the cold, hard facts…and better yet, have given suggestions on steps to take for change. Thank you, this will be on my mind for some time!

  • Shelli

    An excellent resource is a book called “Fish Forever” by Paul Johnson, the owner of the well-known and respected Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley and a leading figure in the campaign for sustainable fish resources. He is on the advisory board for the Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program.

    The book includes explanations of the issues, suggestions of how to buy, cook and eat responsibly, and recipes. A percentage of royalties go to a program attempting to save wild salmon stocks.

  • marie lind

    Thanks for spreading the word, one more voice, one step further to saving a couple of species.

  • Donna

    Great article, Clotilde. I appreciate your comprehensive and succinct look at a devastating problem. We have been carrying the Monterey Bay Aquarium cards in our wallets for years and use them at restos & fish mongers. And we have also decreased the amount of fish we eat – drastically. As Karen mentioned, here in the SF Bay Area, we have suffered loss of salmon and dungeness crab this year. Alaskan or Canadian salmon are prohibitively expensive, except for rare, celebratory dinners. The good news for me is that I love sardines!

    We are lucky here in the Bay area that the vendors and restrauteurs are accustomed to getting the questions about where the fish came from and how it was produced. The supermarkets all have the origin of the fish on the package (although why one would buy fish at a supermarket, I am not sure).

  • Vicki

    Food and Wine magazine just had an article about this in August. They also have an “awards” area for those who are actively working on the issue.

  • Sarah Rich

    Great post. Fish is one of the few foods that can really give you that sense of present-future connection in terms of how what you put in your body now will effect not only you but your children in the future.

  • Word.

    If I ate seafood, this would apply. Alas, I’m not a fan. I do eat sustainably in the rest of my diet as much as possible. Local produce is an absolute must! As well as local dairy (cheese and milk), local meats, and other local products.

  • Malcolm

    What a great article. Sustainability is really important to me because here in Western Australia the waters are still very clean and the fish abundant but as our population grows we will have to depend more and more on farmed fish. There are many successful farms already here and the marron(a fresh water crayfish like animal native to the region) industry is one of the biggest. We also have a big problem with illegal fishermen coming down from Asia, particularly Indonesia…they have a nasty habit of catching shark (which is abundant here), cutting off the fins and throwing the rest away. It is something we all need to think about.

  • It’s true it’s a big concern for us and for our kids.
    Now, I just to try not eating fish species that are in danger and I rediscover some other fish like Trouts that taste very good in Bayern.

  • Helen

    I am writing this from Vancouver, Canada. Being in the pacific northwest, as well as a chef in the industry, I’ve come to understand a few things about sustainable fishing.

    Some species of fish, such as Tilapia, are suited to farming. Others are not – salmon for example is farmed extensively in BC (more in Norway though) – the problem with salmon farming is that a. it is open-penned for the most part (closed-pen is not as common, although better) which means they share the same water as the wild stock. The atlantic species is used for salmon farming, which is very different from the wild Pacific stock we have in our waters. On occassion, the farmed salmon escape into the ocean, and they breed with the wild stock (this is not good – Atlantic salmon mature much faster, meaning these males are more attractive to wild females and breed with them.) Also, salmon does not farm well, as sea lice is a big problem – which again contaminates the ocean.
    Some food markets, such as Whole Foods (and Capers, which was owned by Wild Oats but is now also part of whole foods) make a point of sourcing sustainably farmed salmon (not open pens, no antibiotics against sea lice etc.) but for us locals, we know that wild salmon is best, and we’re happy to pay the premium when it’s in season.
    In Vancouver, the Aquarium has begun a similar program to Monteray, called Ocean Wise which allows restaurants to offer only sustainably caught fish (ie. no tiger prawns!)
    Anyway, this is a start. At the end of the day, it’s up to the consumer – so educate yourself on your options!

  • This is your best article to date. No doubt. It just is.

    I have so much to say that my comments could match your article but it’s 7h00 in the morning here so I will just say one thing and it’s called co-operation. Lets just stop eating the endangered varieties completely.

    Here in Cape Town we have a number we can text to find out whether the fish we are about to buy or eat is endangered or not. Granted, it’s a miniscule step, but it’s a step nonetheless and the reason I mention it is that it warms me to see. Today is women’s day so why don’t all the purchasers of food in the homes simply decide to stop today? Maybe the example will influence the rest, maybe not but in the remote instance that it does, why don’t we just try? We get a response with in seconds and one sees it constantly here ….. people in front of fish counters and in restaurants, mobile in hand texting Fish Alert.

    A small beginning to a change in mindset.

  • It is never too late. Awareness is a powerful tool. NPR has been very active in passing the word out here in the U.S., I’ve heard many reports on the subject over the years. I happen to live in area of the country where people take the future of our food supply really seriously, which makes it easy to have access to the right varieties and products.

    As a parent, I wouldn’t dream of breaking the boundaries set forth by the past generation’s mistakes/stupidity. I feel I owe it to the future generations. Education is key to get more people on the same wagon. Thank you for a great post Clotilde!

  • Jessie

    Being born and raised a vegetarian I just recently starting eating meat after 32 years. Whatever I eat is in moderation. I’m also very careful about making sure the meat I consume is raised all natural with no growth hornones or antibiotics, etc. I treat myself to sushi on occasion. Tuna and swordfish are a no no due to high mercury content. For me and the people in my community seafood would appear to be abundant. We live on the water in a quaint seacoast town. Fishing is a huge part of our culture. When eating out we ask, “Is the salmon wild caught?” We view sustainable seafood as gross. We see it as fish being raised swimming in and eating their own feces in Vietnam where the FDA does not regulate the farming conditions. Are we standing on the wrong side of the fence?

  • All – Thank you for your responses; I’m thrilled that this post struck a chord with you. And thank you, also, for the resources and insightful thoughts you shared — keep them coming!

    Heidi – This page has dozens of recipes using sustainable species, contributed by bloggers for the Teach a Man to Fish blogging event last year.

    Drea – Actually, I was a guest on Evan Kleiman’s Good Food show earlier this year. My segment was aired on May 31, during an episode that happened to talk about sardines and anchovies, too.

    Jacqueline – I certainly will, thanks for letting me know about this blogging event!

    Jessie – Reading your comment, I get the impression that you misunderstand the term “sustainable seafood.”

    As the Wikipedia article defines it, it is “seafood from either fished or farmed sources that can maintain or increase production in the future without jeopardizing the ecosystems from which it was acquired.”

    Wild-caught salmon may be sustainable, depending on the exact method/location/season; fish farmed in the unclean conditions you describe most likely isn’t.

  • Clotilde: I think the best way is for us to MAKE that conversion chart, no? We have the knowledge maybe…people know which fish are hard and which are tender, which are fleshy etc. I know I’ve seen recipes that offer cheaper types of fish, so surely this knowledge could be pooled?

    Ack. And I was going to offer to help you make one, and then I realized the chart for me in the Pacific NW of the United States would be different from the Atlantic fishes you would be dining on in France. Oops!

    And interesting you should bring this up. Just the other weekend I was out at a sea-side town near me, and I was walking by the sort of industrial part of the wharf. Men in waders were processing fish, to which I’ve always thought, “that is the way of things here, no big deal.” And I thought this until I turned the corner, and saw processed tuna being dumped into a huge dump-truck. The tuna meat was overflowing onto the ground, and the seagulls were calmly waiting, which is strange for a seagull. Evidently this was so routine that the birds had learned that with this feast, it’s okay to wait. Sure enough, the truck pulled alway, and the birds flew down and feasted on the heaped tuna bits.

    A kind of shaggy guy was walking by me and when on a Corporate People Making Money That They Just Throw Into The Streets – type rant, which I kind of ignored that day. But I’ve been thinking about it. Really, who do they think they are? If there is enough to spill onto the ground regularly, there is too much, I think.

  • You are my favorite food blogger and I’m so glad to see you talking about sustainability! Yes, a little one is a great motivator to start thinking about what this planet will be like when one leaves it.

    Have been thinking about this topic more over the past couple of years. I have started doing a lot of seafood shopping at Wild Edibles in NYC. They aren’t “perfect” but what they do is inform you where the seafood item is from and tell you what impact the catching or farming of the seafood has. This educates you and also lets you make your own choice. I definitely like that. One thing though, the better it is for the earth…the more sustainable the item is usually also means it is more expensive. Honestly, for a foodie (even a total amateur like myself) doesn’t it make sense to just reduce the amount you are consuming and make the right choice? The products usually TASTE better!

  • Great post, Clotilde! It’s wonderful to see more and more writers address this issue and get the word out. There is hope. There really is.

    In addition to my post you listed above on Sourcing Sustainable Seafood, I also have a post called This Little Fishy Went to Market based on my learnings from the sustainable seafood conference in Monterey and a recent Greenpeace report with three simple changes you can make right away to start the ball rolling in the right direction. Thought y’all might enjoy.

  • One more personal observation to add . . . I’ve been in three coastal communities in very different areas of America in the past month–Alaska, Maine and the Northern California Coast (Fort Bragg)–and have had some VERY interesting conversations with fishermen and fishmongers in all of them. In Maine, I watched tons and tons of herring be stuffed into traps as bait for lobster. This past weekend, I all but begged the fishmonger to find me some local sardines or anchovies or squid, but he said that the fishermen there too only used them as bait because no-one wanted to buy them.

    So one of the lessons standing out to me is . . . we need to broaden our repertoire of seafood and enjoy choices like squid and herring and anchovies and sardines . . . all lower on the food chain, and all so DELICIOUS . . . so that the fishermen will have an incentive to fish for them and sell them instead of turning them into bait for some of the less sustainable choices further up the food chain.

  • The food stock is a problem area generally speaking across the board.

    The current hype in food price is a telling testimony to the shortage concerns being expressed by all.

  • Kelly

    I think we have gone too far. Mankind,even with good intentions, keeps messing things up.

    On a positive note- I do think there is a solution.

  • Seafood is by far my favorite protein, but I’ve scaled my intake back almost to zero based on similar concerns about sustainability. I know there are excellent resources out there, but until I’ve properly studied them I’m pretty much down to local, farmed mollusks, which I must say are extraordinary here in Massachusetts.

    The health of the oceans is just more important to me than a taste on my tongue.

  • Florence

    I also feel very concerned about this issue, thanks for bringing it up. Very informative comments as well. Keep up the good work Clotilde.

  • Svet

    Just in case you don’t know about it, there’s a wonderful book, called “Bottomfeeder” by a Montreal-based writer Taras Grescoe. He explores in detail and in a highly informative way all the issues you touched on in your post. I highly reccomend it.

  • richard

    People, we are talking about a fish here. I am sure there are “plenty of fish in the sea” for everyone. Really what next? A peanut butter shortage?

    Remember we are part of the food chain ourselves…

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  • Andrew

    Just to add to the problem fish farming is not always a good thing.

    Here in Western Canada most of our salmon is farmed in BC but they are farming Atlantic salmon which then escape from the farms and into the local rivers where they disrupt the local ecology & are killing off the wild salmon.

    I am eating less fish while at the same time getting my daughter to eat more (it is amazingly good for brain development). I don’t have answers but I have some bloody good questions.

    In the mean time, I am eating alot of trout that is farmed in ponds, until they learn to walk the local ecology is safe.

  • Leo

    Here’s how Kiwis can make the decision about the consumption of local seafoods.

  • victoria

    Cltoilde, you CAN make a difference! You can post recipes that use ingredients low on the food chain and show the world all the delicious ways to prepare plant-based dishes that are envrionemntally responsible, delicious, and healthy.

    Again and again, I go to famous restaurants, most recently, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Rubicon in San Franciscos, and Mustard’s Grill in Napa, only to find that there is NOTHING vegetarian on the menu that is worth eating. I recently had meals at those restaurants that were extremely disappointing. Blah, bland, starchy, fattening, gross food. I would’ve had a better meal if I had just gone to some chain burrito restaurant.

    Western cuisine simply neglects plant-based cuisine. If it doesn’t contain the flesh of a dead animal, Western cooks can’t be bothered to care.

    This is a tragedy, not only for the planet, but also for our palates. There are so many delicious plants out there — thousands! — and yet Western cooks neglect them almost entirely and focus only on the handful of animals that people like to eat.

    You can make a difference by helping to educate Western cooks about delicious vegetarian recipes!


  • Melinda

    Thank you for mentioning this. You have such power in your voice and your blog, it’s so wonderful for you to take up this issue!!!

  • The issue is a serious one, and will not be easily or quickly resolved. I personally believe that making informed sustainable choices is the best thing I can do to help right now. I love seafood (salmon especially), and the health benefits are too good to pass up for me.

    The company I work for developed Sustainable Seafood Guides shortly before I was on board, and it has changed the way I make my seafood buying decisions. It may not be a perfect solution, but its a start.

  • simone

    Wow! I could never give up shrimp and lobster – so finding sustainable sources is so important. I learned about the issue last Spring and what an eye opener that was.

  • Julie

    We have decided to give up fish completely, with the exception of fish caught in remote lakes from the region where my husband is from. How can we eat fish from the ocean? There is not enough to go around. People in smaller countries whose diet revolves around fish have been struggling for years because the large commercial fleets are depleting the stock.

    This is bigger than a few less fish than normal. This is bigger than even just a couple species disappearing, because we all know that everything is interconnected, and if one goes, more will follow. This is WAY bigger than what I call the selfish health concerns of people who are eating MORE fish for the omega oils.

    They dumb it down in the news because no one wants a panic, and the industry doesn’t want to lose money. People need to look carefully at this. Whose side of the story should you listen to? The side of the guy who makes money if you buy the fish? Or the side of the people who are working to save the fish?

  • Jenny

    China has been stripping the waters off Africa of fish, France and Spain, which somehow obtained control of Ireland’s waters after they joined the EU has been doing the same. Russian cannery ships do the same thing each year off the cost of New England. The US fishing industry acts responsibly, but the rest of the world does not. “We” isn’t the problem, it’s the corrupt governments and industries in the rest of the world that need to be brought up short, and told that they face banning of fishing until they cut way back. It’s the only way to go.. just stop pointing fingers at the US

  • Jennifer

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned yet, but I would reccomend Callum Roberts’ recent “The Unnatural History of the Sea” for anyone interested in learning more on these issues. Roberts is a marine conservation biologist from the UK who specializes in the human impact on marine ecosystems. The book details the history and growth of the fishing industry and the corresponding decline in diversity and size of marine species. Although it may not sound it, it really is a compelling read, and written so engagingly and clearly that the reader does not need a background in the field in order to understand it.

  • IKW

    Excellent post. In regards to Whole Foods stores in America, please be aware that everything is not as it seems at Whole Foods. Working for a restaurant that works with small organic farm cooperatives I learned a sad reality… that meat at Whole Foods is often NOT what you might expect. For example, farmed pigs that are sold as “organic” pig meat at Whole Foods often come from large farms whereby, in order to satisfy the organic labeling requirements, the pigs are not given antibiotics. They are, however, raised in unhealthy crammed in conditions almost identical to conventionally farmed pigs. They then often get sick and, since medicine can’t be administered, die. These deaths are factored in as an inevitable “production cost” ahead of time and the meat is sold as “organic pork” at great expense at Whole Foods. Now, the store *does* carry some fine brands, but you must still be diligent in considering the sources and ingredients, and ultimately Farmer’s Markets and small local farms are often the best sources for truly healthy and humanely raised meat.

    Just thought I would share that little consumer alert.

  • Tea

    I came back to read this post again after spending vacation at our family cabin on an island in British Columbia, off the west coast of Canada. It’s an area that has always been abundant with wild salmon, but this year the locals talk about how the bald eagles are attacking people’s pets–cats, rabbits, and chickens–because there simply isn’t enough salmon for them to eat in the waters any longer. There was a tree cut down recently that contained an eagle’s nest and in it they found 28 cat collars!

    I don’t eat much fish, but I’m giving it up completely. Unlike some of the comments above, I don’t think positive thinking is going to help here–just positive action.

  • cyrus Smith

    Every thing have their own value.Have their own qualities like vitamins,calcium…etc as fish have their own qualities..some where fish use as a common food but some where according to the weather peoples can”t use regular or a common things..but i like fish in every dish.

  • Audrey

    I think the most important thing is what you’ve done here — bring it up!

    I whip my Monterey Aquarium card out at the slightest provocation, both in stores and restaurants, show it to waiters and fishmongers, and share spares.

    No reason to be pushy, but spreading the word to 5 more people about how they can easily make better choices is a much bigger impact than anything I can do on my own.

  • Antonia

    As my friend points out in his blog here, so much fish is sold mislabelled, even the most cautious shopping is not guaranteed safe.

  • Here in the Philippines is much worst than you think. I used to live near the sea shores and every wee hours of the night I can hear fishermen using dynamite to catch fish.

    No wonder the sea that I used to like now turns to be almost dead.

  • Philippine government is already doing some action by teaching the fisherman the proper way of fishing, giving knowledge on how to preserve coral and not using dynamite

  • I also feel very concerned about this issue, thanks for bringing it up. Very informative comments as well. Keep up the good work Clotilde.

  • Fantastic! I actually consult sources like the EDF in order to stay on top of the situation. My fish monger is also an excellent resource and helps me to find the best of my options.

  • Dear All, it’s very interesting to read everybody’s opinion. At Friend of the Sea, we send independent auditors to verify if a fishery or aquaculture plant is ‘sustainable’ according to Friend of the Sea strict criteria. We then authorize use of our label on products if product originates from a sustainable source. I come from the Dolphin-Safe project. We are devoted environmentalists and do our best to make sure end result is truthful. Read more at and contact me at if you want to know more.Paolo

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