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Serve Sustainable Seafood

Sustainable SeafoodSeafood is a wonderful delicacy that helps form the backbone of thousands of restaurants. Seafood is healthy and great tasting, and customers love treating themselves to seafood when they go out to eat.

Unfortunately, overfishing has increased exponentially in the last 25 years, resulting in the collapse of a full third of the world’s fisheries. Many more are in serious decline, and if fishing continues at the present rate, all of the world’s fisheries will be tapped out by 2050. In response, several organizations have started promoting sustainable seafood choices that harvest fishery populations in a responsible and sustainable way. Restaurateurs have also taken notice, and more and more restaurants are offering sustainable seafood on their menus.

To become a sustainable seafood restaurant, check out the resource guide published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for both restaurants and consumers. This resource identifies fisheries that are being harvested sustainably so that you can make buying decisions accordingly.

Also talk with your restaurant’s seafood distributor and work with them to bring sustainable seafood options to your market. Many distributors already offer sustainable options and if they don’t, they should, so let them know that as a customer you would like a sustainable seafood option for your business.

Another option is to buy farm raised fish and shellfish products.  One such species that has recently become available is the striped pangasius, a type of catfish native to southeast Asia that makes a great center-of-plate white fish for any restaurant.

The debate between environmental groups and commercial seafood farms over the impact of farm raised seafood still rages, and The Back Burner will be exploring those issues in future posts.

Choosing to be a  sustainable seafood restaurant doesn’t have to mean compromising on the menu choices you offer your customers. It is possible to continue to bring great seafood menu items in a sustainable way.

And don’t forget to tell your customers you serve sustainable seafood. This is a great marketing tool that lets customers know you care about environmental trends and makes them feel better about ordering seafood items from your menu.

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Can We Bring Bluefin Tuna Back From The Brink?

bluefin tunaBluefin tuna are one of the most prized catches in the world’s oceans, with some markets, especially in Asia, selling them for as much as $20,000 a fish.  For sushi lovers, the bluefin is the equivalent of a purebred Angus filet mignon, and it’s a mainstay of thousands of restaurants, including the internationally recognized chain Nobu.  The Japanese have long treasured bluefin, and they consume 80% of the world’s catch to this day.

As the popularity of sushi has risen in the past decade, so has the insatiable demand for bluefin tuna.  And because this large predatory fish travels as much as 17,000 miles to hunt food and spawn, many countries have active bluefin fishing fleets.  This, of course, makes it almost impossible to regulate the catch as each country elbows for higher quotas.

The consequence is that the bluefin is facing extinction as early as 2012.  However, this story is not all bad.  The member countries of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) plan to meet about the bluefin next March about saving bluefin tuna.  If two thirds of the 175 countries that are part of CITES vote in favor, all bluefin harvesting will come to a screeching halt.  Already several countries have voiced their support for adding the bluefin to the list of globally endangered species.

More exciting, however, is the work of a long-time fisherman in Australia.  Hagen Stehr became a millionaire harvesting bluefins in the vast Pacific to Australia’s east.  Now he is trying to save the species by breeding them in captivity, and he’s put up $48 million to make it happen.  Earlier this year his company, Clean Seas, successfully fertilized bluefin tuna eggs.  Now the fish have grown into fingerlings and are feeding in a huge indoor tank in southern Australia.

Many thought it wasn’t possible to breed the bluefin in captivity, especially since their predatory nature means they tend to eat their own young.  But Clean Seas has found a way, and they hope to be putting 250,000 bluefin fingerlings in the ocean by 2015.

The prospect of a sustainable bluefin tuna catch is good news for environmentalists and businesses alike.  If Clean Seas has its way, restaurants can serve delicious bluefin across the world, guilt-free.

Bluefin fingerlings feeding in a tank at Clean Seas, Port Lincoln, Australia.

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7 Sustainability Tips For Your Restaurant

Restaurant SustainabilityMore and more restaurants are exploring ways to make their operations “sustainable.”  Yes, it’s a buzzword, and yes, it’s a trend most commonly associated with San Francisco restaurants and other yuppie hideouts.  That doesn’t mean most of the restaurants out there can’t utilize sustainability in their operations.

Trends show that consumers are increasingly educated about the benefits of sustainability and advertising your green practices will help reinforce positive images of your brand.  And, of course, you can feel good about the food you serve, which can be a reward in itself.

Some tips on making your restaurant sustainable:

Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark? – As world fish populations face serious decline, the demand for seafood has only risen.  The striped pangasius, a type of catfish native to southeast Asia, has become a great farmed alternative to white fish species like orange roughy.Sustainable Seafood

Serve Sustainable Seafood – The Monterey Bay Aquarium has developed a list of sustainable fish species so that consumers and restaurateurs can make informed choices when it comes to serving and eating seafood.

Restaurants and Farmers Work Together To Reduce Food Waste And Improve Crop Yields – A collective of San Francisco farmers and restaurants have developed a system that works to everyone’s benefit: taking food waste and using it as a very effective fertilizer on local farms.

Greener And Cheaper: Restaurants Grow Their Own Food – More and more chefs are investing time into their own personal gardens to help supplement the fresh produce available in their kitchen.

Darden Group Driving Sustainable Seafood Practices – The Darden restaurant group, owner of the Red Lobster chain, has taken a serious interest in using seafood sustainably.  They view it as a vital long-term business decision.  Learn more in this post.

Sardines: Sustainable AND Delectable? – Most people associate the sardine with oily tin cans full of a mushy fish.  But fresh sardines are actually very good, and a sustainable fish population as well.

The Kitchen Cafe’s Sustainable Restaurant Ethos – The Kitchen Cafe in Boulder, CO, takes it’s role in the community very seriously, and they view part of that role as promoting and using sustainable practices.  Learn how in this post.

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Sardines: Sustainable AND Delectable??

Sardines Can Be A Sustainable Seafood OptionSardines don’t exactly evoke thoughts of fine seafood to most Americans.  Instead, many think of tin cans packed with greasy, mushy fish and some kind of sauce.  Growing up, I only ate sardines on camping trips, and then only reluctantly.  I doubt anyone would look at sardines on the menu and think “That looks good!”

But in fact fresh sardines can be delectable.  Long a favorite fish on Mediterranean menus, sardines can be grilled and then served with lemon and olive oil, mixed with pasta sauces, baked, or braised.  Americans on the west coast are rediscovering the lowly sardine since local populations have made a comeback in places like Monterey Bay.  During the 1950s, chronic overfishing caused the collapse of the fishery, and sardines have taken years to recover.  Now fish merchants are selling sardines to local restaurants at a brisk pace.

Customers who try sardines will be surprised by the taste and happy about the abundant omega-3 fatty acids, which are a very healthy addition to any diet.  But the best part about sardines is the sustainability of the fishery.  The sardines living in the waters off the Californian coast are carefully managed, with only three short fishing seasons allowed every year, and the fish has been certified sustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.

That means restaurants can get the best of all worlds: marketing a great tasting fish that comes from a sustainable population and is healthy to eat.  As other once-popular fish selections like orange roughy, swordfish, and grouper decline because of overfishing and mercury contamination, once snubbed fish like the sardine start to look much more appealing.

Consumers value healthy, “green” menu choices.  And while the sardine probably won’t hit menus nationwide, the story is an encouraging one.  Surely more smart menu choices like the sardine await restaurateurs willing to look.

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Darden Group Driving Sustainable Seafood Practices

Sustainable Seafood is Vital To Future ConsumptionThe Darden Group, which operates both Red Lobster and Olive Garden national chain restaurants, is understandably also the largest purchaser of seafood in the U.S.  As concern grows over the dwindling seafood supply in the world’s oceans, Darden has made every attempt to stay out in front of the situation and look for solutions to a growing problem.

Darden spends an estimated $800 million annually on seafood for its restaurant chains.  In order to keep their restaurants supplied with product, the company has gotten involved with several initiatives, primary among them the development of aquaculture, or fish farming.  The problem with fish farming is that, if done improperly, it can have just as detrimental effect on the environment as trawling.  Fish farms are water-intensive and produce a lot of waste, which often ends up in local water supplies.  There is also the danger of disease cross-contamination between farmed and wild populations.  The Global Aquaculture Alliance, which Darden helped found, has set guidelines and standards for global aquaculture.  The restaurant group began requiring that all farmed shrimp suppliers adhere to the Alliance’s standards in 2006.

But aquaculture can only satisfy part of America’s constant appetite for seafood.  When it comes to the harvesting of wild seafood, Darden has made moves to ensure the product they buy is coming from sustainable populations.  The company also heeds an advisory group that makes recommendations on problematic fish populations, like swordfish and orange roughy.Lobster Is Regulated

Perhaps the best known sea creature sold by Darden is lobster, and the crustacean is also unique in that it is almost entirely wild-caught.  Darden has made moves to block the unregulated import of Caribbean lobster that are not of reproductive age, a key requirement for lobster populations in U.S. waters that help sustain the population.

However, Darden does still struggle with sustainable seafood issues.  Swordfish, which Red Lobster stopped serving several years ago, is still on the menu at the Capital Grill, recent Darden acquisition.  And many fish species, like salmon and red snapper, are purchased from unregulated fish farms with questionable environmental practices.

But overall Darden’s mission to pursue sustainable seafood is recognized as industry-leading, which is an important role for the biggest kid on the block, and one that can be extremely influential.  With scientists predicting the collapse of the world’s fisheries by 2050 if they are harvested at today’s rates, Darden views their efforts to move towards sustainability as vital to their survival.

For more info on serving sustainable seafood in your restaurant, check out this Back Burner post.

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Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark?

That thing doesn't fit in my aquarium!

That thing doesn’t fit in my aquarium!

Sustainable seafood has become an increasingly important issue for restaurateurs as the green restaurant movement gains ground.  This is coupled with increasing evidence that the world’s wild caught seafood supply is in serious decline.

The result has been a renewed search for fish species that have the quality and taste characteristics worthy of center-of-plate presentation but can be farm raised in a sustainable manner.

Striped Pangasius, or Iridescent Shark,  is a type of catfish native to the tropical waters of Vietnam and Thailand.  Its hardy nature and delicious, flaky white meat has made it a favored source of food in Asia, Canada, and Europe.

The shark name originates from aquarium enthusiasts who keep young Pangasius in household tanks.  The young have an iridescent color that is lost as Pangasius grows older.  Full grown Pangasius in the wild can weigh as much as 97 pounds and grow to 4 feet in length.

Pangasius can tolerate low oxygen levels and high school concentrations.  They are very easy to farm (compared to tilapia or bangus) and disease resistant.  These characteristics also make it cheaper to buy than Tilapia, Cod, or Sole, yet the filets are of comparable quality.

Fishery Products International (FPI) recently announced they would begin to import Pangasius from Southeast Asia for sale in the U.S.  The fish is farm raised in Vietnam using sustainable practices overseen by the Vietnamese Ministry of Fisheries and a separate quality assurance group run by FPI.

Farm raised fish do have an environmental impact, especially concerning water usage and contamination, but in general that impact is far less than the further depletion of  wild fish populations through overfishing.

For years catfish farms in the U.S. resisted the importation of Pangasius because it competes directly with them in supplying the food industry.  In 2002, an Arkansas senator even sponsored legislation restricting the catfish name to fish grown in the United States.

No matter what you call it, Pangasius’ attractiveness comes from cheaper prices for a virtually identical product, and the volume in which it can be produced far exceeds the capabilities of the American catfish industry.

Chefs across the country have responded positively to Pangasius, especially after price comparisons show it is a great product for the price.  Look for the tropical catfish to start showing up on menus near you very soon.

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