One Fish, Two Fish, Right Fish, Wrong Fish: Focusing on sustainability in seafood choices | Civil Eats

One Fish, Two Fish, Right Fish, Wrong Fish: Focusing on sustainability in seafood choices

Few seafood lovers can keep from salivating over a gorgeous piece of bluefin tuna. That’s the problem: There are too many seafood lovers and not enough bluefin. But Pacific albacore, a smaller tuna best known as “chunk white” in cans, happens to be plentiful and relatively cheap. Turn the other end of the food chain and you’ll find smelt, sardines and anchovies. Most people think of sardines or anchovies as bait – and they are. But both fish are phenomenal eaten fresh, and Monterey’s sardine fishery has returned with a vengeance after collapsing a generation ago.

Eating sustainably does not mean eating poorly, and to prove it Tom Worthington of the Monterey Fish Market is bringing the best minds in sustainable fishing to the Slow Food Nation event this Labor Day weekend.

Fresh sardines, Alaskan halibut, Dungeness crab – all are world-class foods that are sustainably managed. Worthington says about 30 Bay Area chefs will be using these regional seafoods to offer Slow Food Nation visitors a taste of just how good eating sustainable seafood can be.

But Worthington says the food is intended to draw attention to the dilemmas that face every kind of marine ecosystem, from estuaries to bays to the oceanic fisheries. As it happens, Northern California has examples of each environment, and all are taking a beating from a combination of pollution, habitat loss and fishing pressure.

“Most people have no real clue about the environment from which we obtain fish,” said Worthington. “In essence, I’m telling people what our ‘farm’ looks like, using ‘farm’ as a metaphor…I don’t think a lot of people have an idea about what wild fish is – we’re talking about wild ecosystems that feed us.”

Normally a highlight of a local seafood show would be king salmon from the Sacramento River system – historically the largest king salmon run on the West Coast. But salmon numbers are so depleted this year the state has banned commercial fishing.

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No one knows exactly why the salmon have not returned. But Southern California has been pumping record amounts of water out of the Delta, salmon spawning grounds have been affected by a two-year drought and biologists suspect the way the state releases baby salmon – many of which are hatchery raised – into the rivers could damage their rate of return. Some suspect the fish lack the deep imprint of their ancestral streams that drive the salmon runs farther north.

“There will be no salmon here this year,” Worthington said. “It’ll be a striking absence from the show, but we’re going to use it to our advantage. This was not brought on by fishing.”

Visit the Fish Pavilion Saturday and Sunday during the event.

Photo by Hank Shaw

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A former line cook and commercial fisherman, Hank Shaw is a staff writer for Edible Sacramento and has written for Gastronomica, The Art of Eating and Meatpaper. He runs the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook as well as the Fish & Seafood cooking site for He lives near Sacramento. Read more >

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  1. thank you for a very insightful article on fish and particularly your observations on sardines. I grow up in the mediterranean and if there is one thing i miss the most, it is eating fish. although we are surrounded by water, it seems, here in the Bay Area, I do not think there is an abundance of fresh fish offered; neither in the markets, nor in the restaurants. when you find fish, it is always the same thing... salmon and few other species. Yeh, what about sardines and "roger" and the hundreds of other types of fish that we could be enjoying. believe me, if you eat a well-prepared tagine of sardines with vegetables and preserved lemons, plus all the Moroccan spices and a generous drizzle of olive oil, you will know what i am talking about. Yuuuuum.
  2. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great, pocket-sized guide to sustainable seafood called Seafood Watch, which you can learn more about and download here:
  3. Thanks for providing that link, Eli -- I refer to the Monterey Bay Aquarium site often. And I will have to try that Moroccan tagine with sardines, Tazi. It sounds intruiging...

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