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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Even in San Francisco, Seafood Sustainability Is Suspect

Posted By on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 at 5:50 PM

Sardines are an anytime food.
  • Sardines are an anytime food.

Today, San Francisco magazine published an amazing investigative piece by Erik Vance. Vance doesn't just accept local chefs' commitment to sourcing what they call "sustainable seafood" ― he checks up on their claims.

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. 

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.)

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.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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