Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ocean Wise Seafood & Fish

If you haven't heard of the Ocean Wise program, you're either not living on the West Coast, or you're not into seafood.

Fish is fantastic for you, and certainly much better for you than the antibiotic-stuffed, ill chickens cooped up in cruel cages, and the grossly inefficient cattle industry. (Incidentally, I'm glad CBC finally got around to probing the poultry industry - I've had my BSc in Microbiology for how many years now, and the profs were always lecturing back-in-the-day on the incomprehensibly irresponsible use of antibiotics in the meat industry).

The 7 Seas fish market on 4th @ Vine. Great service, great fish!

Fish is easy to cook, given the right cookbooks! Read on to see two I can't do without, both with excellent fish recipes!

Fish is full of polyunsaturated fatty acids (the well-known Omega 3, 6 and 9 polyunsaturates), and if you're wise about what and how much you eat, the threat of heavy metal overdose is basically negligable (tuna's one of the worst for PCB's and mercury contamination, but then again virtually no tuna is considered 'Ocean Wise' these days - read on!).

Can't cook, won't cook? Go here for the best fish in town.

Concerned about PCB's and mercury? Read up on the 'safe' fish here, then continue on with my blog article, because there are some great fish choices you'll want to hear about! Keep this simple biological rule of thumb in mind when avoiding fish with high levels of heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls: the farther they are up the proverbial 'food chain', the more they'll contain. That's because fish like salmon and tuna are predators of smaller fish, and so the mercury and toxins that the small fish pick up are incorporated into the larger fish. That means that your large carnivorous fish will likely have a higher concentration of nasties in it than the small sardine would. The same is true with all environmental pollutants - the apex predators are always the ones getting the worst of it.

The Fish House menu - Ocean Wise choices

First off, let's stick to the Ocean Wise fish!

Ocean Wise is a Vancouver Aquarium conservation programme, partnering with the best Vancouver restaurants (which I can attest to - yum!) and several sponsor groups and businesses (VanCity, Capers, Marc Anthony group, etc.). If you visit the Vancouver Aquarium homepage, you'll see that they are now boasting an iPhone app for choosing sustainable seafood. If I had an iPhone, this would be the very second app I'd download (after Angry Birds, of course!).

Ocean Wise fish are those that are managed well (sustainable fisheries) and not endangered or threatened species. Here's an excerpt from their About page:

The Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, non-profit association dedicated to effecting the conservation of aquatic life through display and interpretation, education, research, and direct action.

Overfishing is the number one problem facing the world’s oceans...

Ocean Wise is a Vancouver Aquarium conservation program created to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. Ocean Wise works directly with restaurants, markets, food services and suppliers ensuring that they have the most current scientific information regarding seafood and helping them make ocean-friendly buying decisions. The options are highlighted on their menus and display cases with the Ocean Wise symbol, making it easier for consumers to make environmentally friendly seafood choices. The Ocean Wise logo next to a menu or seafood item is an assurance that the item is a good choice for keeping ocean life healthy and abundant for generations to come.
Look for this symbol next to seafood options:
Fresh grilled BC halibut marinated in a ginger, miso & white wine reduction; wild rice pilaf & Chinese broccoli
It’s your assurance that you are making the best choice to ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come.

Ocean Wise participating restaurants across Canada (!) include all of the really good Vancouver restaurants, like:

Sustainable seafood is not a completely novel concept. The collapse of the cod fishery in the maritimes was probably one of the first fisheries instances where we humans started to realise that there is a balance to nature that is easy for us to upset!

Recent Greenpeace articles regarding sustainability of Canadian and Int'l fisheries

The gurus of environmentalism, Greenpeace, have their own list of "red-listed" seafood that is critical to avoid to help slow demand and influence thoughtful and deliberate actions in terms of conservation of that particular fish stock or affected fisheries.

Greenpeace's Out Of Stock logo. Love it.
Their "Out of Stock" campaign, like Ocean Wise, intends to remind consumers that there isn't always 'plenty o' fish in the sea' when it comes to many species! The Out of Stock t-shirts are especially snappy, and I certainly wouldn't mind being a visual reminder to others about this important campaign. I encourage you to take a look at their red list, just to identify which fish you simply must not consume. But let's stay on the positive - I'm going to list fish that ARE good to eat! Healthy for you, healthy for their populations, healthy for the environment in general.

Screenshot: homepage
SeaChoice claims to be Canada's largest sustainable fisheries watchdog, and was formed by The David Suzuki Foundation and The Sierra Club among others. It also has a very handy, easy-to-use guide for green-listed fish (good ones), yellow-listed fish (not so good), and red-listed fish (DO NOT EAT).

Other organizations are doing similar work, including Monterrey Bay Aquarium (California, USA). I was curious to see if their list gybed with our local aquarium, and not surprisingly it did.

And finally, we come to:


Here's a few recommendations (from me!) on fish to try out tonight! Hit up 7 Seas on 4th avenue (pictured in this post) for the best seafood I know of in town. They even have a page on sustainability here.

  • Arctic Char
  • Sablefish
  • Wild Salmon (from BC, of course!)
    The best place in Kits, maybe in all of Vancouver, to get your seafood!

    Arctic Char is a delicious fish, reminiscent of salmon or rainbow trout in texture (a related species, actually), but has a far milder, less-fishy taste. It has white flesh that is rich but not oily, and although it is farmed, it's farmed in isolation (safely!) in North America (Northwest Territories and Washington State, for example). Arctic Char is on all of the 'green-lists' I've read. It's especially good at The Fish House, where they cook it on a cedar plank. I love Ling Cod as well, and if you see an Ocean Wise symbol next to it, go for it! But when in doubt, I will always choose the Arctic Char knowing that it's a wise move (and a tasty one, too!). This is a great fish for someone who doesn't really like fish! Mild and smooth!

    Sablefish is a new one for me, and wow is it ever tasty! Oily and rich, this fish is probably better suited to people who like fish already. Described as 'buttery', Sablefish doesn't need a lot of spice or additions as its full flavour is often enough. In the Vij's recipe I've recommended (below), a simple spice rub dresses the fish before it's steamed. That's it - and it's amazing! Very rich and decadent, Sablefish will fill you up, fast.

    Steamed Sablefish (Vij's at Home recipe) . . . sooooo good!

    Wild Salmon (BC) is our coastal perennial favourite. We've had a few good salmon runs (the herring have returned! Fantastic news!) the past two years, so salmon stocks are fairly safe. The salmon really is part of our West Coast heritage (just ask a First Nations friend!), as the cod was to the Maritimes before it was fished away... As a former StreamKeepers volunteer (yeay high school!), keeping our salmon stocks safe is important to me (and should be to you, too) - always inquire as to the best sustainable choice each season when choosing salmon, and check those green-list guides periodically because the recommendations could change, quickly. Everyone likes salmon, and there's a million recipes out there for barbequed salmon! Tastes fantastic right off the grill.

    Price-wise (because I'm green and broke!), Arctic Char and Sablefish are cost-efficient options. Sablefish for two people (2 x 6 ounce portions . . . apparently the fishing industry doesn't think in metric! About 170g each) costs about $13 this week. That's pretty decent - Arctic Char is usually cheaper than halibut and the other less-Ocean Wise but still popular choices. Salmon prices vary and are typically a little more costly.

    What do you do with the fish now that you've purchased it? Here are two absolutely indispensible cookbooks that I cannot recommend more highly:


    In Vij's (and I haven't tried enough of the recipes yet - just got it at Christmastime), I recommend:

    • Steamed Sablefish (page 139)
    • Prawns in Pomegranate Curry (page 142 - don't buy tropic-sourced prawns)

    All of the seafood dishes are geared towards Ocean Wise fish (Vij's is a participating restaurant, don't forget!) and there is a page in the book dedicated to this subject. An excerpt from Vij's at Home:

    ...Not only is eating the wrong seafood harmful to our environment, but increasingly it's harmful to our personal health, too - we hear warnings of mercury levels in the news more often now. Most sustainable seafood guides point out these health factors as well. In the end it really isn't that difficult to identify which seafood is good to eat - from both environmental and personal health perspectives...

    Moosewood Restaurant (Ithaca, NY, USA) is also on the ball when it comes to healthful and sustainable eating practices. While 'New Classics' doesn't have an entire blurb on sustainable seafood (it's from 2001 - they have blurbs on GMOs instead as this was the big concern of the time, and really should still be on out radar!), it does have a rather fitting quote on page 442 ("Going Sustainable"):
    "In living nature, nothing happens which is unconnected to the whole" - Goethe
    In 'New Classics', I recommend:

    • Pecan-crusted Fish (page 367 - the BEST home-cooked fish dish I've ever had! Recipe free online, too)
    • Fish with Artichokes & Capers (page 365 - fish-in-a-packet section)
    One of my other favourite Moosewood fish recipes is from "Low Fat Favourites", and it's a chipotle-cornmeal crusted fish recipe (baked). I tried that recipe with Sablefish last night and it was delicious (but any fish tastes good with a chipotle-cornmeal crust! Don't limit yourself to Sablefish!).

    THRIFTY TIP: The 'New Classics' cookbook is available from $18.28 on at the moment (weirdly, that's cheaper than the USED books . . . I always recommend used, but perhaps not in this rare case!). That's a real steal! Get it while the getting's good! I bought mine 'used' from Amazon and it showed up with a Costco price tag on it - I don't even think it had been opened. It was more than $18.28, though! There are some truly awesome recipes in this book (the best is the pizza . . . mmm, mmm, mmmm!). Act fast!

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