By Sandy K. Johnson
Conscientious sourcing. Sustainable fishing. Labeling. What’s a bewildered customer to do when buying fish at a restaurant or fish market?
Steve Phelps, chef/owner of Indigenous restaurant in Sarasota, Florida, says it is as simple as “always ask where your fish comes from.”
Most Americans might be surprised to learn that almost 90 percent of the fish they consume comes from other countries. And some of those countries aren’t as strict about how those fish are caught, whether they are being overfished, or what chemicals and other substances are used in processing. That’s enough to put you on high alert.
Phelps, a James Beard award two-time semi-finalist, created a tasting menu for National Press Foundation fellows designed to teach them about trends in the fishing industry. Aquafarmed: A crudo of cobia illustrated a fish from Panama that is grown in “netted pens” in the deep sea. Invasive: A baked lionfish showed the potential for eating invasive fish – “like a horror movie, they’re everywhere,” Phelps said. Wild: Florida swordfish, until recently a distressed fish, is now sustainably pole caught.
Phelps suggested customers look beyond prices and focus on where the fish came from. NOAA’s FishWatch, a database about sustainable fish, is a good resource. He also recommended Seafood Watch, user-friendly tips for customers written by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
A final piece of advice from Phelps for customers who get evasive answers from waiters about the origin of their fish: “If they start stuttering and want to get a manager … get the chicken.”