Posted by: Jill | April 22, 2009

We are a waiter’s worst nightmare

I love when my friends and family ask me for advice on important life decisions like, “Is lobster a better choice than shrimp for my dinner tonight?”

And at restaurants, I’ve grown bold about asking where the fish comes from.  Wild or farmed?  Pacific or Gulf?  Line or trawl-caught?  By becoming informed and vocal consumers, we can be one of the best tools to reduce consumption of declining fish stocks.  Even if the server doesn’t know the answer to my questions, I’m still reminding the restaurant that I care about what I’m eating and my dollars will never pay for farmed shrimp or Atlantic salmon.

So what type of seafood should a responsible eater enjoy?

Ideally, I’d like to do all my own research about what types of seafood I’ll eat, but I don’t always have the time or resources to be comprehensive and unbiased.  Fortunately, there are a lot of good tools for seafood consumers who care about healthy ecosystems and healthy people (overfishing/ecosystem health and contamination/human health are two separate issues, but are often addressed by the same sources).   Here are some of my favorite, reliable sources of information about responsible seafood consumption:

  • Carry a fish card in your wallet.  Fish cards are a good quick reference list, and you can download one or order them online for free from the Blue Ocean Institute, the Monterey Bay Aquarium (which has regional cards), or the Environmental Defense Fund.  Each of these organizations has also recently released sushi-specific cards with both the Japanese and English names of sushi species that are not on most lists, like urchin and eel.
  • Send a text message question to FishPhone. The Blue Ocean Institute runs FishPhone, a services that will answer your text message about the status of specific fish species.  Send a text message to 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the fish about which you’re wondering.  You’ll receive a response immediately!
  • Look for seafood with MSC certification. The Marine Stewardship Council is an international organization that certifies individual fisheries for their responsible, sustainable use of marine resources.  MSC certification is different from Fish Cards because it certifies individual fisheries based on their practices, rather than green-stamping an entire species of fish.  MSC-certified fisheries control the entire supply chain from hook (or net) to store, so when I see a fish with their blue logo, I can be confident that I’m supporting sustainable fishing.  Look for MSC stamps on fish in grocery stores and on restaurant menus.

MSC logo

Sometimes, these resources provide different – and conflicting – information.  For example, the MSC sometimes certifies fisheries for species that are on Fish Card Red Lists (don’t eat!).  Chilean sea bass (a.k.a. Patagonian toothfish, Dissostichus eleginoides), is generally incredibly overfished and poorly managed.  However, MSC has certified one small Chilean sea bass fishery, so if you want to sample this fish, it’s wise to look for fish with the MSC logo.

Confusing?  I know.  The University of Rhode Island has put together a helpful website that compares each of these different techniques.  Remember, the goal is to be more aware of what you eat, stay healthy, and support sustainable fishing practices.  And, of course, to eat excellent food.



  1. Excellent post and some really good advice on seafood, particularly about MSC certified fisheries.

    Have a look at the End of the Line website – It’s a new documentary about the global problem of overfishing and how we as consumers need to change the way we think about the fish we eat.

    By becoming more aware and altering our habits we can make sure that there are fish in the sea for future generations.

  2. Great post ! I knew the MSC but not the others…
    Thanks for the detailed research !

  3. […] Here are some neat recommendations (except for the MSC one). […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: