“This is the last buffalo chase.”
A lot was said during the Terroir Symposium’s Best Practices Culinary Mission to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador all those things were insightful and valuable, coming from the mouths of culinary leaders like Normand Laprise and Anders Selmer. But those six words from Derek Butler, executive director of the Association of Seafood Producers, said during a morning panel on sustainable seafood in a city marked by the fishery’s previous unsustainability, about summed it up.
Fish is, as Butler said, our last large-scale source of wild protein. The cows and chickens and pigs we eat come, in almost every instance, from farms. There are people who still eat wild game as a matter of regularity, of course, but it’s not feeding the world. Seafood, however, is — the average person in the world consumes 16.4kg of fish each year. But global fish stocks are largely not keeping up, making sustainable seafood production and consumption increasingly important.
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s most easterly province, knows this firsthand. The abundant cod stocks surrounding Newfoundland, the island portion of the province, are the entire reason Europeans settled such a remote, rocky place to begin with; upon returning to Europe after landing on Newfoundland’s eastern shores in 1492, John Cabot reportedly said “the sea there is full of fish that can be taken not only with nets but with fishing-baskets.” But 500 years later, the sea was decidedly less full and the Northern cod fishery was placed under moratorium, ending hundreds of years of tradition and putting tens of thousands out of work.
In the 20-odd years since, the province has both explored revenue sources—chiefly tourism and offshore oil development—and reinvented its fishery. Fish stocks like wild Atlantic prawns and snow crabs are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Along with being home to an internationally celebrated inn, Fogo Island off Newfoundland’s northeastern coast is building a model of sustainable, community-focused fishing—including a limited commercial Atlantic cod fishery. And a new generation of chefs, helmed by Jeremy Charles of the Northern Chefs Alliance, is celebrating the seafood their ancestors survived on and elevating the stocks keeping a new generation of fishers working off the province’s shores today. The Terroir Symposium brought an international group of visitors to the province to examine the evolution in situ.
Of course, Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t the only place in the world focusing on sustainable seafood harvesting and consumption. Here are seven seafood options that you can feel good about choosing.
Wild Alaskan salmon
You’ve got five different species of Alaskan salmon to choose from here: chum, sockeye, chinook, coho, and pink. And the good news is that all of them are MSC certified, and have been since 2000. Fun fact: Chinook salmon is Alaska’s state fish.
Farmed blue mussels
Newfoundlanders eat plenty of blue mussels, and they’ve now got a farmed option thanks to the province’s growing aquaculture industry. Those blue mussels are all grown by independent farmers, and were the first mussels in North America certified organic by Global Trust.
Despite concerns, farmed seafood isn’t automatically terrible. The David Suzuki Foundation recommends choosing oysters from around the world farmed in a suspended culture system. However, avoid wild oysters caught by scallop dredge or tonging.
But not just any crab. Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium lists blue crab from Chesapeake Bay, snow crab from the Eastern Bering Sea and the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, and stone crab from the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico as best choices. At the other end of the scale, king crab from Russia is a miss because of concerns about overfishing, and trawled blue and red swimmer crabs from Asia are to be skipped for obvious reasons.
SeaChoice recommends looking for sablefish as an alternative to cod—specifically, wild sablefish from off the coasts of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California. You may also see sablefish referred to as black cod, gindara, or skilfish.
Seafood shoppers have good reason to avoid shrimp caught overseas after reports of slavery in the southeast Asian seafood industry. Suzuki recommends choosing spot prawns caught by trap off the Pacific coast of Canada. Look for prawns (technically shrimp, though in culinary terms any large shrimp is generically referred to as a prawn) with a reddish brown shell and white spots on their bellies, and avoid U.S.-caught spot prawns and tiger shrimp.
Skip the wild for this one. Ocean Wise recommends going for farmed abalone from around the world, though Seafood Watch recommends passing on fish farmed by sea ranched aquaculture in China and Japan. Wild abalone stocks off the B.C. coast are in continued decline, unfortunately, despite the shutdown of the industry in 1990.
Terri Coles is a freelance writer living in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She’s a recovering picky eater.