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What's Cooking Special:
Sustainable Seafood

Hosted by Kim O'Donnel
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, October 23, 2003; 12:00 PM

The world's oceans, once overflowing with marine life, are being dangerously depleted. According to "Seafood Solutions: A Chef's Guide to Ecologically Responsible Fish Procurement," (Chef's Collaborative), an estimated 70 percent of the world's commercially-fished species are either overfished or close to extinction.

In spite of the statistics, fish-loving consumers don't need to eliminate seafood from their diets. Instead, they need to know which species are fished or farmed in an ecologically sound manner -- meaning no destruction to marine habitat, species or bycatch.

Kim O'Donnel (Craig Cola - washingtonpost.com)


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The dilemma, however, is keeping track of the do's and don'ts of seafood shopping and consumption. It is difficult to remember which species are environmentally "good" choices and those which are not so great.

In an effort to combat the negative publicity about seafood, marine biologist Carole Baldwin and her partner Julie Mounts have written a cookbook that focuses only on species that are well managed, "good" choices. Their findings revealed that in spite of a crisis, there is a great variety of sustainably managed species, as well as a multitude of ways to prepare them at home.

"One fish, two fish, crawfish, bluefish: The Smithsonian Sustainable Seafood Cookbook" includes a collection of 140 recipes from chefs nationwide, plus consumer background on each featured species.

Baldwin is a marine biologist at the Smithsonian Institution and star of the IMax film, "Galapagos." Mounts is a research assistant at the National Museum of Natural History. Baldwin and Mounts are online to take your questions and comments about thefish available at your local seafood counter and on the menu of your favorite restaurants.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Rockville, Md: Hi,
I understand that farm-raised salmon (and maybe other farm-raised fish) have high amounts of PCBs in them. Should we stop eating them or maybe not more than once a week?

Carole Baldwin: In addition to the PCB problem (a recent study showed farmed salmon have 10 times the amount of PCBs as wild salmon), there are numerous environmental issues associated with farmed salmon: Waste, disease, accidental releases of farmed salmon into the wild, and the amount of wild marine life it takes to feed farmed salmon - approximately 3 pounds of wild marine life to make 1 pound of farmed salmon. Better choices include wild Pacific salmon and farmed rainbow trout, as well as farmed striped bass, tilapia, white sturgeon, and catfish.

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Carole Baldwin: Hi Kim and visitors. My co-author Julie Mounts and I are thrilled to be here. Thanks for your interest!

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Takoma Park, Md.: I think this cookbook is absolutely wonderful! I work for the Center for a New American Dream, one of many organizations including Environmental Defense and the Marine Stewardship Council, that is helping people find ways to make conscious consumer choices that are better for our health and our planet. On our site, www.turnthetide.org, people can see the amount of bycatch they are saving as they shift to buying sustainable shrimp. They can also link to Audubon's Seafood Lover's Guide and other sustainable seafood resources.
Thanks, again, for this fabuolous book. Are you planning any future ecologically- friendly cookbooks?

Carole Baldwin: No plans for any future cookbooks at the moment - this one was a LOT of work!! Thanks for your nice comments.

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Washington, D.C.: Dr Baldwin:
Is canned tuna a no-no?
Thanks.

Carole Baldwin: Canned tuna, if it's chunk light, is usually yellowfin or skipjack; solid white tuna is albacore. All species are abundant, unlike bluefin tuna, which is becoming rare in the oceans. In the 1960s, over 40 million pounds of bluefin tuna were caught commercially off the U.S., but in the past 3 years, less than 4 million pounds were caught! So canned tuna is a good choice. If you see troll-caught tuna (caught by towing single lines behind a boat), this is a better environmental choice than tuna caught by purse seines (large circular nets used to encircle schools of fish). Purse seines can be associated with high by-catch - the catching and killing of unwanted sea life when fishing for the target species.

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Bethesda, Md.: My kids eat a great deal of frozen fish- shrimp poppers, fish sticks, etc. I'm guessing that these are not sustainable species. Or are they? Does the manufacturing of these products have a negative impact on the ocean?

Jeff

Carole Baldwin: Hi Jeff. You can keep feeding your kids frozen fish. Most of it is Alaska pollock, an incredibly abundant fish. In fact, the fishery for it is under review for one of the coveted certificates of sustainability awarded by the Marine Stewardship Council. As for the shrimp, there are currently no labeling requirements indicating country of origin or whether the species is farmed or caught in the wild. Both of these are important if you're trying to make wise shrimp choices. We can go into more detail on this if you want, but in the book we recommend U.S. wildcaught and U.S. farmed shrimp over imported caught and farmed shrimp.

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Washington, D.C.: I love fish but I'm on a tight budget. Are
these fish you recommend more
expensive than say... swordfish? And if
so, which ones are the most affordable?
Thx.

Carole Baldwin: The book contains a list of approximately 86 U.S. seafood species -- some expensive such as Alaska halibut, sablefish, diver sea scallops, certain species of wild Alaska salmon, Maine lobster, etc. But there are also numerous inexpensive choices in the book, such as farmed mussels and clams, U.S. farmed crawfish, catfish, mahi mahi, squid (don't say 'yuck' - this is calamari!), smelts, rainbow trout, etc. There's something for all budgets in this book -- and recipes to match.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I love orange roughi! Yet I read recently that this is being seriously over fished. Can you comment??
Thank you.

Carole Baldwin: Yes, orange roughy is a problem primarily because it's such a long-live fish. Orange roughy can live to 150 years(!) and don't reach sexual maturity until 25 or 30 years of age. These aspects of the species make it difficult to support heavy fishing pressure, because the populations can't replenish themselves quickly enough. Both orange roughy and Chilean sea bass (another overfished delicious species) live in cold deep waters; if you like them -- if you LOVE them, try sablefish, which is also sold as black cod or Alaskan butterfish. It's as good as, if not better than, Chilean sea bass, and much better managed. In fact, the fishery for sablefish off Alaska is also under review for a Marine Stewardship Council certificate of sustainability. Most of the sablefish caught in this country is exported to Japan, but it is beginning to appear on restaurant menus in this country and is available at certain seafood markets (Whole Foods, for example). Ask for it!

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New York, N.Y.: How were you able to get so many great chefs for the book?

Carole Baldwin: Good question! We started with a few chefs and received recommendations for others. Once we had a dozen or so on board, we included their names in the recipe-request letter sent out to other chefs. We chose chefs based on our own dining experiences, those of friends and family, and by doing online searches for top restaurants throughout the country. The response from chefs was phenomenal, and we ended up with over 150 recipes from over 100 chefs!

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Seattle to Ann Arbor Michigan: Submitting early....
My husband and I lived in Seattle for years, and love salmon. Now we are in Michigan, and graduate students to boot so funds are tight. We ususally buy the big sides of salmon at Costco to stop our intense salmon cravings, but I can't imagine that the salmon is the best. Any suggestions? Salmon in the stores here can run $12/lb, and please don't suggest canned salmon.

Carole Baldwin: Are those big sides of salmon at Costco farmed Atlantic salmon? You might want to ask. If so, see if you can find wild Alaska salmon. Do you have a Trader Joe's near where you live? They, and many other retail markets, sell fresh or frozen Alaska salmon year ?round. For example, Julie and I just bought wild coho salmon at a local grocery store in the D.C. area for $1.99/lb. It was whole -- so we had to clean it -- but it's not hard! You can also use the "Sources for Selected Seafood" at the back of our book.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What are a few fish we should avoid buying because commercialism is reducing their populations?
Thanks!

Carole Baldwin: Our philosophy in the book was not to focus on the problematic species, so you won't find a "do not eat" list. However, since you asked, species that we have removed from our seafood diets for environmental reasons include imported farmed shrimp and salmon, bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass, orange roughy, sharks, grouper, snapper, Pacific rockfish, Atlantic flatfish such as flounder and sole, and Atlantic cod. Not eating these species that we had been relying on heavily opened our eyes to a whole new world of seafood choices. This was really an adventurous culinary project for us, and we are now eating lots of farmed mussels, squid, catfish, sablefish, U.S. shrimp and salmon, mahi mahi, wahoo, opah, farmed rainbow trout, etc. This really brings up the main recommendation we make in the book: diversify, diversify, diversify. If the public diversifies its seafood choices over a broad spectrum of well-managed species, this can help relieve the pressure on overfished species. Go for it!

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Washington, D.C.: So, are shrimp totally out of the question?

Carole Baldwin: No, some shrimp are good choices; for example, two U.S. coldwater species, northern pink shrimp (also called Maine shrimp) and spot prawns from the west coast, are caught in nets that minimize bycatch or in environmentally sound traps. For the warm-water shrimp that we all know and love, we recommend U.S. caught or farmed species. The U.S. wild shrimp are caught in bottom trawls, which worldwide are blamed as big culprits in the by-catch issue, shrimp trawls in the Gulf of Mexico must be fitted with turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and bycatch reduction devices (BRDs). So this is a step in the right direction that we wanted to highlight in the book. As for farmed shrimp, foreign farms are destroying wetlands habitat, such as mangroves, to build shrimp ponds -- areas that are vital nursery habitat for the young stages of many commercially important species. Plus, shrimp farms have the same environmental problems we mentioned for salmon farms. U.S. shrimp farms (mostly in Texas), however, are well regulated from an environmental perspective. It's all relative, but U.S. wild caught and farmed shrimp are better choices. The problem again for consumers is labeling... imported farmed shrimp may just be labeled "tiger shrimp," "white shrimp," or "Gulf shrimp," with no indication where they came from.

So, get out there and start asking questions of your seafood retailers! Our seafood retailers hate to see us coming, but if thousands of people started asking questions, perhaps this would make a difference.

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Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: are there any specific types of snapper we should stay away from? or all snapper in general? thanks

Carole Baldwin: According to the latest National Marine Fishery Service report to Congress, all major stocks of snapper (and grouper) in the U.S. are overfished. The status of 20 minor stocks is unknown. In addition to overfishing, snapper populations apparently have suffered from juveniles being caught as bycatch in shrimp-trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. The new bycatch reduction devices may reduce this problem.

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Washington, D.C.: Do either of you have a favorite recipe from the book?

Carole Baldwin: We both love TenPenh's "Macadamia Nut-Crusted Halibut with Mango Puree and Scallion Oil," Chanterelle's Mussels with Lime and Basil," Narsai David's "Hong Kong Marinated Black Cod (=Sablefish)," Oceanaire's "Crispy Smelts with Tomatoes, Olives, and Capers, Duangrat's "Halibut, Crabmeat, and Mussels in Hot-and-Sour Broth," Rose's Cafe's "Fried Calamari with Hot Red Pepper and Basil," Emeril's "Crawfish Etoufee," Hayes Street Grill's "Cracked Dungeness Crab with Garlic, Parsley, and Olive Oil," and Summer Shack's "Lobster with Ginger and Scallions" to name a few.

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Washington, D.C.: What are some of the more practical fishing methods that help reduce by-catch?

Carole Baldwin: * Traps -- for things like crabs, octopus, eels, spot prawns, lobster (see stories below about lobster and stone crabs)...
* Bottom long line for halibut, sablefish
* Brightly lit purse seines for California market squid
* Hook and Line (single hooks fished on the bottom or towed behind a boat)

Scientists at University of New Hampshire recently fitted a Maine lobster trap with an underwater video camera to film lobsters going into the traps. The resulting footage showed the lobsters not only going into the traps but leaving them as well! The lobsters caught are those that happen to be in the trap when it's pulled to the surface. The scientists concluded that despite heavy fishing pressure on Maine lobster, the populations may be in good shape because only a limited number of lobsters in a given area are actually caught.

Regarding stone crabs... the fishery for them in the Gulf of Mexico may be the most sustainable fishery in the world. It's based on the fact that a crab can regenerate an appendage once it's lost. The crabs are caught in traps, one claw is removed, and the crab is released to return to the bottom to grow a new claw, which takes about one year!

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Virginia: Is it okay for pregnant women to eat catfish? Someone told me that since catfish are bottom feeders, they are more likely to be contaminated with pollutants. Is this true?

Carole Baldwin: The catfish you find in seafood markets now is all farmed --safe for you and safe for the environment -- to the best of our knowledge. The FDA does caution pregnant women to avoid eating fish high in methylmercury -- such as swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish -- none of which is included in our book (for other reasons).

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USA: Beef is pretty much out because of the chemicals that agribusiness pumps into them and because it will clog your arteries. Pork is out because of the environmental problems of huge factory farms. Chicken is bad because of all these reasons and because Tyson's et al. abuse foreign workers. Coffee may be bad for you, and if it's not, it comes mostly from poor countries and is picked by workers at starvation wages.

And on and on. Now buying fish is a political act.

Help. I don't have tons of money, and I'm just not willing to live on organic celery.

Sorry if this message sounds hostile: that's not my intent. But do you have any sort of response?

Carole Baldwin: There are many good fishery management stories in the U.S., many examples of environmentally sound fishing and farming practices in this country, and lots of good healthy and inexpensive seafood choices. Please take a look at the book, especially the species list in the back, as well as "issues regarding U.S. seafood" chapter. I think you'll find a lot of delicious choices.

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Re: Farmed salmon: From what I have read, the jury is still out on the PCB problem with respect to farmed salmon. In addition, many economic studies in Norway point to continued research and development into salmon farming as a means for preventing many of the environmental problems such as disease and chemical use associated with salmon farming, as this has already had a huge impact on water conditions at farms employing the latest technology. I also have read that organic salmon farming does not contribute to the problems highlighted by environmental activists. What is your take on these findings?

Last, I would like to point out that, although salmon are fed large quantities of wild marine life, the vast majority of "trash fish" used in feed is fed to terrestrial livestock like cattle, swine, and poultry.

Carole Baldwin: Good point. More studies are needed on the PCB issue -- we were just reporting results of one. Also, some salmon farms, particularly those in Maine and, as you mention, some in Norway, are agreeing to strict environmental regulations. This is a step in the right direction.

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Reston, Va.: Are you doing any events in the DC area?

Samantha

Carole Baldwin: Yes! Dinner and book signing at Galileo on Oct. 29, a seminar and book signing at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, Baird Auditorium, noon, Oct. 31, and a dinner and book signing at Restaurant Nora on Nov. 4. See www.mnh.si.edu/seafood for more information. Hope to see some of you there!

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Bethesda, Md.: Thanks for the response re. the frozen seafood. Regarding the frozen shrimp poppers that my kids eat, it's hard to tell where they're from. Any idea?

Jeff

Carole Baldwin: By 2004, U.S. wholesalers and retailers will be required to provide country-of-origin labels for imported seafood and to indicate whether seafood was fished or farmed. So making wise shrimp and other seafood choices should become easier.

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Carole Baldwin: We've gotta run. It's been great being here. Thanks for your great questions and interest in the book. Best fishes!
Carole & Julie

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