Bon Appétit magazine recognizes aquarium’s pioneering sustainability evaluation of seafood
Ever since I first heard about Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, I’ve been a fan. The aquarium helps chefs, home cooks and diners select seafoods with regard to their viability and sustainability. From the days when the public was made aware that dolphins and porpoises were being killed as “bycatch” of tuna fishing practices, and that halibut, once a dominant Atlantic Ocean fish, had all but disappeared, many of us have been concerned that in enjoying the seafoods we love, we were destroying them and the oceans that nurtured them. For nearly a decade, Seafood Watch has helped us put those concerns into everyday action.
It evaluates both wild-caught and farm-raised seafoods and assigns each type to a list of whether it is a fish or shellfish that is a “Best Choice,” a “Good Alternative” or one to “Avoid.” The list is handy because the choices are not always self-evident. For instance, farmed Atlantic salmon is a fish to “Avoid,” but farmed catfish is a “Best Choice.” Imported caviar is the type to “Avoid,” while farmed caviar from sturgeon is a “Best Choice.” All imported shrimp, whgether farmed or wild-caught are to be “Avoided,” while domestic farmed shrimp is the “Best Choice.” Seafood Watch also includes health alerts and suggests better alternatives for endangered or threatened seafood species that home cooks can use.
I cheered Bon Appétit magazine’s selection of the Monterey Bay Aquarium for its 2008 Tastemaker of the Year honors in recognition of “the aquarium’s Seafood Watch program for its influential role in transforming seafood buying habits across the United States….Bon Appétit magazine selected the aquarium for its work in communicating the message of sustainable seafood at a time when many commercial fisheries are collapsing or in decline around the world.” The honor will be presented at the 11th annual Bon Appétit Awards ceremony in New York City on September 15, and the October issue will feature more details about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s accomplishments in promoting sustainable seafood.
Seafood Watch began in 1997 as an informal set of recommendations intended for the aquarium’s own food service and animal food room operations. It has grown to a research team that produces and updates six regional pocket guides (above right) highlighting seafood items available in different parts of the United States, a national pocket guide, three Spanish-language pocket guides and a mobile version available instantly on Internet-enabled phones and PDAs. Since 1999, the aquarium has distributed more than 24 million consumer pocket guides nationwide to help individuals make seafood choices that protect the long-term health of ocean ecosystems.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium, a leader in this area, is now also working with two other conservation organizations, the Blue Ocean Institute and Environmental Defense Fund, to release new consumer guides to sustainable sushi. Sushi pocket guides and new online content will be available in mid-October. Seafood Watch is a model for consumer pocket guides produced by other institutions, including the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Here in Colorado, Denver’s Downtown Aquarium, which is owned by Landry’s Restaurants, belongs to or partners with Earth Share, the National Marine Fisheries Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Ocean Project and other conservation organizations.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has also partnered with North America’s two largest food service companies, Compass Group and ARAMARK, which have both “made commitments to shift their purchases of millions of pounds of seafood annually to sustainable sources.” Its outreach and major buyers teams have developed partnerships with leading food service companies and restaurants, as well as more than 175 aquariums, zoos and other organizations that follow Seafood Watch guidelines and distribute pocket guides in their regions. Nationwide, more than 2,500 people have signed up as Seafood Watch Advocates, promoting sustainable seafood activities in their communities.
Bon Appétit’s recognition of Seafood Watch’s role in helping protect the health of the world’s ocean is a richly deserved honor.