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Food for Thought is an ongoing column-with-a-conscience that focuses on exciting new discoveries in the foodie world.
You can give someone a fish, or you can teach them how to select the best fish. Isn’t that how the saying goes? What we do know is that, when it comes to fish, there are great choices to help us keep our plates tasty, while still contributing to the betterment of our planet.
This is where organizations like Ocean Wise come in. Ocean Wise is an organization started by the Vancouver Aquarium to help educate the general public about sustainable seafood. With so much conflicting information out there, it is nice to know there is somewhere reliable to turn.
We spoke with Jane Mundy, author of the The Ocean Wise Cookbook. Notes Jane, “When I worked as a chef, we had a diver that would get us abalone and scallops that we would serve to the guests that day. Now we cannot do that, and to help the oceans we have to work within the system.”
This system is what Ocean Wise is using to promote sustainability. We can’t all continue eating Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna, unless we want to support their extinction and the endangering of our health and the oceans. What is one to do?
Avoid predatory fish like sharks, tunas and marlins, as they have the highest chemical contaminants. These are the predators of the sea, and our pollution compounds up through smaller fish and into them.
Avoid slow fish, as they take longer to grow. Did you know that grouper, orange roughy and Chilean sea bass can take up to 30 years to mature? If we overfish them, we have to wait another 30 years to eat them again. We sure don’t want to wait that long.
Avoid fresh ocean fish. Well, sort of. We ran into Teddie Geach, Ocean Wise program co-coordinator, at Ocean Wise’s Chowder Chowdown held at the Royal York in Toronto, Ontario. We asked Teddie about the issue of fresh fish, and he noted that, “A major issue is the perception of frozen seafood being of lesser quality then fresh. The reality is that the majority of the time that fish is frozen properly, that fish is much fresher then the fish you are getting ‘fresh.’ By the time a fresh fish gets to the market, it can be 14 days later.”
This is similar to buying a fish on the coast, keeping it in your fridge for 14 days and still calling it fresh. The concept of frozen being fresher is a tough bone to swallow. However, if you are one of the millions of us who do not live near the coast, this is a real issue. So, how is frozen fish of better quality then fresh?
A few acronyms can help answer this, specifically IQF and FAS. IQF, or individually quick frozen, is where the fish are frozen hours from when they are caught, while FAS, or frozen at sea, means the fish are frozen on the boat in a process that takes up to three seconds, instantly freezing the water and juices inside. Fish frozen just hours from being caught, or 14-day-old fish? Seems like a pretty clear choice.
Buy fresh local fish, where available. There are many fresh fish choices that are available if you know what to ask and where to look. Near you, there may be a land-based farmed fish facility. Land-based farming is one of the most responsible farming methods that, if you are lucky enough to live near one, can offer you the freshest fish.
Whatever you do, Ocean Wise is a great place to start your responsible seafood journey. It even has a handy new app. The easiest way towards more sustainable fish consumption is to simply start asking questions. Opt for smaller fish like mackerel or anchovy, locate responsible suppliers, and stay informed. Don’t let the fish intimidate you.