Salmon. It can make you crazy. Are we only supposed to eat wild Alaskan salmon? What about farmed? What’s in the chemicals added to make it, well, salmon colored? How about Scottish salmon? It’s so delicious but it has to be shipped here and how is that good for the environment? Forget salmon. What about swordfish. Is it okay to eat it? And, no bluefin tuna? Seriously?

Talk about sustainable seafood is all the rage. With two-thirds of the world’s fisheries reaching depletion and overfishing putting some species, including some in California, close to extinction, we have serious issues to consider as consumers. We aren’t supposed to eat endangered species or seafood caught by large trawlers with turtle by-catch. Or eat some farmed fish. We’re encouraged to eat local, but what’s local (especially for those not on a coast)? Is it from oceans surrounding our country or more specific?

We’re encouraged to eat species like swordfish that are caught by harpoon or hook and line, not net. But how do we know how it’s caught?

Good luck, chefs, keeping all the do’s and don’ts straight.

And, yet it’s important to make the effort. According to the annual Fisheries of the United States reported released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, fish and seafood consumption in the U.S. increased in 2017 to 16 pounds from 14.9 pounds in 2016. And we’re eating more of a variety of seafood. While shrimp, salmon and tuna continue to be America’s favorite fish and shellfish, the Top Ten Species List by National Fisheries Institute makes up only 84 percent of the 16 pounds consumed. In 2016, this list accounted for 90 percent of the 14.9 pounds consumed. That means we can influence what shows up in restaurants and stores. But we have to be smart about it.

So, what is sustainable seafood? Addressing how to be a good consumer is complex, not the least because depending on who you talk to you get a different definition of sustainability. NOAA holds that seafood is sustainable when, “the population of that species of fish is managed in a way that provides for today’s needs without damaging the ability of the species to reproduce and be available for future generations.” But others–from Seafood Watch to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to chefs engaged in seafood sustainability all have different definitions. And different issues that concern them, such as carbon footprint and community economics.

So, it’s complicated. And, some of the decision making consumers have to do centers around how much research they’re willing to put in on an ever-changing industry that is often accused of fudging its practices.

It also has to do with personal values and economics and even a willingness to try new things. Perhaps grilled sardines instead of tuna sashimi. Farmed fish instead of wild. And consuming less of it all, just as with beef, pork, and chicken.

So here are some things you can do for yourself and your clients, assuming this is a concern of theirs. First some guides to sustainable fisheries:

Consumers can find guides on websites including

Now, are these guides the easy fix for consumers? No, a pocket guide is one tool among many, including Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) labels at major retailers like Whole Foods.

Smart consumers should also recognize that they need to ask their vendors questions about where seafood comes from, how it was caught, if it’s sustainable. The bottom line? Buy from businesses you trust.

All this can make a difference. When there’s a shift in customer demand and interest, it can impact businesses that sell fish. Back in 2012, Trader Joe’s announced a goal of shifting all seafood purchases to sustainable sources by the end of the year. And they can use their purchasing power to leverage change among seafood suppliers.

And here’s one other issue to consider. How do you use your seafood? Are you buying strictly filets or trying other parts of the fish, like cheeks, collars, and bellies? How about preparing the whole fish?

Is seafood sustainability an issue you’re interested in? If so, how do you go about selecting your seafood?

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And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

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