Vance's central character is Kenny Belov, the co-owner of Fish in Sausalito. Belov isn't just a restaurateur. His concerns over the gap between the perceived and actual sustainability of seafood has propelled him into becoming a wholesaler, an anti-farmed-salmon advocate, and a trout farmer. Belov makes the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program look like it's dabbling in half measures. (The chart's "yellow" section? He thinks it's bogus.)
There is a booming demand for sustainably caught fish. ... But at the same time, many of our most famous chefs continue to put unsustainable choices like ahi tuna, monkfish, and farmed salmon on their menus, while their most respected suppliers keep selling red-listed fish to whoever wants it. Even the many chefs who go out of their way to ask the right questions of the people they get their fish from can be misled by the half-truths told all along the supply chain.
In an accompanying piece, Nic Buron evaluated the menus of 18 local restaurants
that claim to sell sustainably caught seafood; on almost every single
menu, he found numerous misstatements and fish from red-listed
species, and uncovered incidences of supplier greenwashing.
The feature is a remarkable piece of journalism, supported by great graphics
and charts. I did have a few concerns with the piece. Belov's strict
definitions of sustainability aren't the same as the more nuanced stance
of well-respected suppliers like Monterey Fish Market,
who end up being portrayed like panderers. And the net effect of the
menu evaluation is to cast aspersions on the honesty of chefs, who are likely to be so busy they can't possibly investigate all their suppliers'
claims, day after day.
However, the overall message ― that
sustainability-conscious diners and chefs are sold far too many threatened species and seafood caught through environmentally destructive
means ― is compelling. And given the speed at which the oceans are
being depleted, it's a chilling one, too.