Home   |   Register               Web Search: by Google
channel navigation

Kim O'Donnel
Kim O'Donnel
(Craig Cola
What's Cooking Archive What's Cooking Videos
An Italian Journal
E-mail Kim O'Donnel
Talk: What's Cooking Message Boards
Live Online Transcripts
Post Food Section
Subscribe to washingtonpost.com e-mail newsletters

What's Cooking
Sustainable Seafood Special
Hosted by Kim O'Donnel
washingtonpost.com Staff

Thursday, Aug. 15, 2002; Noon EDT

As consumers, we've become familiar with the terms "organic," "cruelty-free" and "free-range." You may now be hearing the words "grass fed" to describe beef and "hormone and/or antiobiotic-free" when you're shopping for milk, beef and poultry.

All of these words were born out of the sustainable agriculture movement in this country, which has grown in response to the practices of high-profit factory farms, whose track records on the environment and animal welfare have been taken to task by consumers, the media and conservation groups.

With all of these sustainable produce, meat and dairy movments afoot, do we consumers have everything covered? One area of the food chain that, until recently, had been forgotten, is seafood.

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.

What's being done to save the world's fish supply? What kinds of fish are considered environmentally sound (or not)? What's the deal with farmed fish? And how can consumers make informed decisions and still enjoy their seafood dinners?

Online to discuss the state of seafood is my guest, Susan Boa, of Seafood Choices Alliance, here in Washington. SCA, a trade association which "brings ocean conservation to the table" is like a clearing house of information about the environmental issues surrounding the seafood industry. It focuses on disseminating this information to chefs, restaurants and fish retailers -- just some of the many businesses that make a living from seafood.

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.

Kim O'Donnel: Greetings, seafood lovers. If you've read the text at the top of this page, you know that the world's ocean supply is emptying at lightning speed. Much of the fish you buy at the market or order in a restaurant is in danger of depletion or complete disappearance. So, what's a fish-eating consumer to do? Stop eating fish altogether? Eat with guilt? The answer is neither. Susan Boa, manager at Seafood Choices Alliance, of Washington, will explain why. A native of Maryland's Eastern Shore, where she spent her childhood summers fishing and crabbing, Boa is the granddaughter of a commercial fisherman who made his living in Key West, Fla. She has a degree in oceanography and has been working in the non-profit marine conservation world for six years. The next hour is your opportunity to get the most current information on the state of seafood, what's happening to your favorite types of fish and the latest efforts in the marine conservation world, plus seafood cooking tips. So, let's talk fish!

Susan Boa: Thanks Kim, I am happy to be here – I’m a long time reader of the chat – I love mangoes and Kim’s chickpea/tomato/spinach dish. Haven’t tried the blueberry lemonade yet but hopefully will before the summer is out. Ask away – I’ll do the best I can to answer as many questions as I can, but for more info, there’s a wide world of sustainable seafood information out there, and my organization, the Seafood Choices Alliance has a website that links to everything out there (that we know about right this second). This is a growing issue of importance and we are thrilled so many people are interested in learning more about how their seafood choices impact the environment. http://www.seafoodchoices.com

Herndon, Va.: Hi, Kim & Susan. I've always enjoyed seafood but don't eat it as much anymore due to not knowing what fish & shellfish are "good to eat" environmentally-speaking. What resources are available for consumers and seafood-lovers such as myself to learn more about "good seafood?" Do you think it's rude to ask at the store or in a restaurant if their fish is "good" or "bad?" How would you ask?

Susan Boa: Great question!

Asking can be hard – there are times when I don’t want to ask, because I don’t want to make a big production out of it. But asking is good and empowering, and we should all ask more questions about ALL the food we eat. As long as you’re polite and interested (can you tell me where this fish is from? Is it farmed or wild? Etc), proprietors should welcome a more informed consuming public.

One thing you could do is to learn just a little about your handful of favorite things – spend 15 minutes going on the websites (I won’t list them all out here, look on the seafood choices site for links to everyone) and find out a little bit about things you eat often. Carry a card in your wallet – they’re small but packed with info

Washington, D.C.: I'm VERY fond of Shark and Swordfish, but have been told that both are remarkably overfished and that I should not buy them. Do you have any facts regarding this?

Susan Boa: Hi, good question. Shark and swordfish are both on "avoid" lists, from Monterey Bay Aquarium, Audubon, and ED. Best to avoid for now. You can read more about them on websites, but in general, sharks are long lived slow reproducers, so easy to overfish, and they have been. Sharks have more to fear from us than we have from them.

Maryland: Remember the rockfish ban in the Bay years ago? I had heard the rockfish are back in large numbers and are eating the baby blue crabs, which explains the high price of crabs in the last few years. Is this true?

Susan Boa: This is a complicated question. Rockfish were in trouble in the 80s, but after a complete moratorium was put in place, they have rebounded. Now a great choice.

What's gonig on with blue crabs is more complicated. It's possible we've put the Chesapeake out of whack, and it's possible more rockfish now are eating smaller blue crabs (because we're also overfishing the menhaden, small oily fish that rockfish like to eat and we like to turn into fish meal and oil to feed farmed salmon and farmed chickens.) I'll get more on blue crabs with other questions.

Kim O'Donnel: Susan, you used the acronym ED in your earlier question; does this stand for Environmental Defense? What do this group focus on?

Susan Boa: hi, yes, sorry, we work in a field full of acronyms. I'll try to be better. ED is environmental defense. They have a website called for my world (which we link to). Part of their website is a list of seafood - it is solely web based and is a larger list of good and bad choices (no middle ground). It's a longer list than can be found on any one card- and it's part of their larger effort to educate consumers on how all their choices (seafood being just one) impact the environment.

Arlington, Va.: What can you tell us about the future of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab? Can we eat them guilt-free in season, or should there maybe be a moratorium for a few years to rejuvenate the species?

Susan Boa: are a tough one for me - I spent many a summer day happily chicken-necking for crabs. However, catches are down this year. Blue crab populations fluctuate wildly due to natural circumstances, but the downward trend has continued for many years now with no signs of improving. We NEED to protect the blue crabs in the Chesapeake. Virginia and Maryland have institutes better restrictions in the past couple of years, and hopefully those will help. Blue crabs tend ot fall in the middle range in people's recommendations. Think twice about them. For me, they are just TOO expensive this year!

Kim O'Donnel: Maybe we should go over the plain definition of "sustainable seafood." What does it really mean?

Susan Boa: Great question, Kim - You are right, "sustainable seafood" is a hard term! The word sustainable has so many meanings to so many people - we define it as seafood that comes from abundant wild populations, under sound management, that are caught or farmed in a way that doesn't harm the ocean or other ocean creatures, and that support local fishing communities.

Northern Va.: How about blue crabs? That always seems to be the subject of debate. We love them, and we feel like we're supporting the fishermen who work so hard to catch them, but are we really depleting the supply? What about on a universal scale, as it seems much of the crab we buy in the stores is not from the United States.

Kim O'Donnel: Susan, I know you touched on this just a minute ago, but can you comment on the angle from the men and women who fish for a living?

Susan Boa: We need blue crabs in the Bay, because we need watermen. That's what makes this area so great. We need to support our local fishermen. However, if the science says we need to take a break and slow down fishing pressure, we need to respect that, too. Tough issue, especially when people's livlihoods are at stake. Crab management is complicated, and involves both Maryland and Virginia.

It's really interesting to me that blue crab supplies are not enough to meet demand in many cases. We now import a crab from Thailand that's called the blue swimming crab. Different animal. But, I know Phillip's Crab House uses this crab in some of their products. Phillip's is a local institution! We need to have blue crabs in ther Bay to fill local needs.

Alexandria, Va.: How can you be so sure the self-appointed ocean police have the consumers' best interests in mind? It seems to this observer that they are extreme animal rights radicals who look for any excuse to stop humans from consuming protein.

Susan Boa: I think that we try to make it really obvious we LOVE seafood. We want their to be seafood around for our children and their children to enjoy. What we're talking about here is making SMARTER choices. but still eating plenty of seafood.

Baltimore, Md.: I've heard there is "good" and "bad" salmon when it comes to healthy, sustainable purchases. Where can I go to get the "good" salmon? Do any of my local grocery stores supply it?

Susan Boa: Short answer (and I have ot say with short answers I am making HUGE generalities) good salmon is wild salmon. The Marine Stweardship Council has certified wild salmon from Alaska as sustainable. Look for their label in Fresh Fields.

People should really avoice farmed salmon (look for more on this in other questions).

Somewhere, USA: What about dungeness and rock crabs? Granted they're not as good (at least to a Virginian like me!), but could those help fill the void while we let the blue crab population re-emerge?

Susan Boa: Dungeness are great!! By rock crabs do you mean stone crabs? Season starts in October. Also a great choice.

There's plenty out there to enjoy, that's the bottom line.

Arlington, Va.: Can you give us a few fish species that are on the "yeah, go ahead and eat 'em" list?

Susan Boa: Sure - catfish, farmed mussels and clams, crawfish, halibut (from Pacific), striped bass, tilapia, mackeral, farmed caviar from the US. There's more.

Washington, D.C.: Hi! What's your take on farmed fish? I seem to recall hearing that the pollution caused by the farming methods used was big-time nasty. Is that still the case? I'd hate to think fish farming is anything like commercial-scale chicken, pig, etc farming.

Kim O'Donnel: Susan, I'll let you handle this, but I do want to point to a great link that puts the situation into slide-show format. I'll have the link in a moment.

Susan Boa: Some farming is great. Other types of farming aren't great. OK, for anything farmed, there are a few basic things to think about - where are the farms located (gives you info on pollution impacts and ecosystem impacts)? What are the farmed animals fed (do they eat other fish, which results in more fish being taken out of the ocean to make farmed fish are they fed lots of antibiotics)? Can the farmed animals escape (and harm the ocean or other creatures)?

For example, Salmon "fails" every question - farms are in giant nets along the coasts, so pollution (when the animals poop!) is released right there. Because they're grown in huge numbers, they have lots of antibiotic treatments, which are also released right into the water. They're carnivores, with a couple of pounds of wild fish needed to make one pound of farmed. And these pens sometimes break, leading to farmed fish escaping and mingling with and outcompeting wild fish.

Wild salmon have evolved over millions of years to fit perfectly into the native landscape. While some wild salmon are in trouble, the wild salmon of Alaska have been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as sustainable. And CA wild salmon runs are also in decent shape.

Kim O'Donnel: Connie Coho slide show on farmed salmon from Ecotrust.

Confused: I'm not sure I undertand why wild salmon is better than farmed. Seems like it would be the other way around?

Susan Boa: see my previous answer. People often think farming is the solution to problems with wild fish. For certain things that can be true (farmed oysters, clams and mussels, for ex). For others, especially fish that need protein to grow, like salmon, you're taking more OUT of the ocean to produce an expensive product.

Beaufort, N.C.: Hi Susan and Kim,

Just wanted to put in my 2 cents as a fishery researcher for NOAA Fisheries. Your seafood choices website is among the most thorough I've seen to aid people in determining what is environmentally sound or costly to eat. It considers the specific fishery (which includes the fish and location among other things) while other resources only report "Salmon: ok to eat". As your site reports, this is not the case for all Salmon. However, I suggest to your audience to also consider the distance which the fish has to travel in making choices. This also impacts the environment. Getting foods locally versus Alaska (if you're from NC) reduces the amount of resources (gas, shipping materials) needed to get that food/fish to your dinner plate. I guess my main point is, use resources like SEafood Choices as a guide in making informed decisions, but use your common sense too.

Great work!

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for chiming in, Beaufort. The issue of cross-country or continent shipping is a good one to ponder when it comes to shrimp, squid and lots of other species. Susan?

Susan Boa: Thanks for this! That's great to hear. This is an issue we wrangle with a lot.

Again, in vague generalities, if you can get local, that's almost always a better choice. The thing is, in our global marketplace, it's hard to know sometimes what is local and what isn't. Used to be, if something was overfished in one area and you went to the market, your fishmonger would tell you he didn't have it. Now he says I just got a shipment from whereever. The facts are, we don't eat locally anymore - for seafood or other things, and we'd probably be better off if we did.

Somewhere, USA: how about mahimahi/dolphin fish?

Susan Boa: Pretty OK choice. Best pick from Enironmental Defense, verging into the middle zones ffor Monterey Bay and Audubon.

Washington, D.C.: Could you please provide information about Chilean sea bass? I have been told that it is an endangered species and yet it keeps showing up in stores like Fresh Fields. One of the clerks at Fresh Fields said that it was not really Childean sea bass but another fish from the Antartic that looks and tastes like Chilean sea bass. While on the subject, sea bass used to be caught off the Delaware and Maryland coasts and was quite good. What is the current situation?

Susan Boa: Sea Bass, this is a great question. Here's some info about the current campaign about chilean sea bass, but you also raise a great point on labeling. Chilean sea bass ARE NOT real sea bass.

Another conservation organization, National Environmental Trust (NET) is currently sponsoring the Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass campaign. They are asking chefs, restaurants, retailers and consumers to pass on bass, until the populations can be brought back. Patagonian toothfish are long lived, slow growing fish found in the cold waters around the Antarctic. That life style - longlived, slow growing, late to mature - is vulnerable to overfishing, and these fish have been severely overfished - both by the legal catch, ubt also by the HUGE black market that exists - these are isolated international waters where they are found and the illegal fishing that happens could be as much as 5 times larger than the legal catch. The fishery is also hazardous to other animals - birds, in fact - the estimate is that 200,000 albatross are killed every year when they dive for the bait on the hooks, get entangled in the lines, and drown.

Toothfish are a hot issue this year because there's an opportunity to change the way they are managed. There's an international treaty organization that could ban the sale of Toothfish until these problems are corrected - it's the same regulations that banned the sale of ivory.

NET has a great website for consumers to learn more:

College Park, Md.: I love crabs and beer just as much, if not more, than the next person. I was born sucking on a crab leg, Old Bay on my fingers. At the same time, I realize that the Chesapeake is not a renewable resource. We should have begun to realize this as soon as the oysters suffered disease blight. Now the crabs are decreasing.

My only comment, however, is that before we begin a campaign for "sustainable seafood" that we take into consideration -- and indeed, incorporate the assistance -- of local fisherman. Seafood, like all food resources, are not relegated to "simple" economics, but also form part of the regional social structure and psyche. To exclude local watermen on this important topic, will lead to their alienation and their almost immediate and unsurprising reluctance to participate in sustainable seafood extraction.

my 0.02

Susan Boa: Great question. We are trying to work with fishermen, too. In Seafood Choices Alliance, we have great relationships with the Cape Cod Commerical Hook Fishermen's Association, a group that fishes hook and line instead of trawling - much, much better option. We're a new group so we need to build these partnerships. We also work with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. Both groups are great people (I've been fishing with the guys from Cape Cod and it was a blast!), really trying to do the right thing for the environment and for themselves - because after all, if we don't take care of what we've got, we won't have it any more.

Bethesda, Md.: In recent weeks, regulars of Kim's online discussion have been asking about the frozen seafood sold at Trader Joe's. She's made us wait till today to see it discussed, so what's the veredict?

Also, any general rules on places where you should/shouldn't buy your seafood, depending on the kind of establishment they are? Avoid/frequent groceries like Giant or Safeway? What about Shoppers? What about small fishmonger's like the weekly market that used to open inside NIH and is now on Old Georgetown road? What about small stores like Oriental markets? Thanks!

Susan Boa: lots of questions here.

Trader Joe’s – Trader Joes carries some great products. They do a fabulous job of carrying new and innovative mixes (who doesn’t love no-pudge brownies). However, their seafood cases leave something to be desired. I know the Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bas folks have been trying to talk to Trader Joe’s to get the fish out of the cases, to no luck. Write letters!

Small fishmongers are great - get to know them and ask them questions.

Clifton, Va.: What about farmed raised scallops?

Susan Boa: Probably a good choice. Farmed shellfish in general is usually pretty good. Best if farmed in the US.

Kim O'Donnel: Susan, tell the folks about some of the success stories in the marine conservation world.

Susan Boa: Striped bass/rockfish are a success, as I mentioned earlier.

We're early in the movement toward making better choices.

A few years ago we had the Give Swordfish a Break campaign, run by SeaWeb and NRDC. The goal of the campaign was better management of the fish, and that goal was met. Three years later, we're waiting to see if those management measures were enough. A new swordfish population assessment for the Atlantic is due early this Fall. Fingers crossed!

Kim O'Donnel: Susan, the other issue with buying the frozen stuff at stores is that you don't know where the fish is coming from, right?

Susan Boa: Exactly right. We don't have good labeling requirements, although this year Congress passed some regulations that are voluntary for two years, then will be required - but only for grocery stores, not restaurants. The longer answer is we need to start learning more - and even by asking questions, companies will learn this is important to consumers and we'll see more labeling, we hope.

In general, if the price is too good to be true, it really might be - the costs come from the environment, but those are hidden costs we don't pay until later.

Washington State: Kim & Susan, I want to thank you so much for having this chat. I live in Washington State, which, as you know, wrestles with the problems of salmon production. What else can I, the consumer, do to try and help rectify what has really become a bad situation?

Susan Boa: Buy wild! The Pacific Fishermen's group I mentioned earlier makes a great argument that to protect fish in the Pacific Northwest - where problems are dams and habitat, we still need people eating and buying those fish, because otherwise, with no consumer demand, no one will be trying to keep those populations healthy.

Otherwise, get involved. There are great groups in the NW that work on those issues.

Petworth, Washington, D.C.: Some places tell you up front that they are using sustainably harvested seafood.

For example, I know that the Reef, in Adams Morgan, uses exclusively organic produce, free range meat and poultry, and sustainably harvested seafood.

I'd love to know if there are other such places. Nora? Where else?

Kim O'Donnel: Yes to Nora. Equinox. Oceanaire Seafood, I believe. I bet Kinkeads, and I'm sure they'd be happy to disclose. Susan, do you know of other spots?

Susan Boa: Great question. Support our local restaurants that are getting involved in this movement.

Kim's list is great. Here are some others - B Smiths. Jeffreys, Galileo.. there are more.

We list some places on our website, the NET Chilean Seabass website has a list of DC restaurants participating in their campaign.

Austin, Tex.: Re salmon...

I'd love to eat only wild salmon, but at $10+ per pound, it's a once a year luxury item for me. The health benefits of salmon are so great, though, that I want it as part of my diet on a regular basis.

So what am I to do?

Kim O'Donnel: Great question. Wild salmon is at its peak now, until September. (Susan, please correct me if I'm wrong.) ON the east coast, there have been sales of $7.99 and $8.99 per pound, but you present a situation felt painfully by many consumers.

Susan Boa: Definitely at its peak now. Price can be a problem, i know. Actually, most canned salmon is wild Alaskan, so that's another option for certain uses. I wish I had a better answer to this question.

Washington, D.C.: What's the verdict on tuna? and farm-raised catfish?

Susan Boa: Catfish - mostly all farmed raised in the South East US. Great choice.

Tuna, more complicated. Bluefin tuna are a BAD choice. Canned white tuna probably OK, from an environmental perspective (know that there are health advisories for some tuna due to Mercury. This is not my area of expertise, so check with the FDA.). Other canned tunas not great but not awful. Poll caught or Troll caught is best.

Bellingham, Wash.: Sustainable wild salmon is abundant during the summer/fall fishing season and delicious frozen, year around, yet farmed salmon is ubiquitous (even though artificially colored and flaccid fleshed). Do you think marketers will carry wild salmon at reasonable prices if consumers demand it?

Susan Boa: That's the hope! Wild salmon is SUCH a better choice than farmed. Another hope could be that the farms get better, though that will take a long time.

NW Washington, D.C.: Hi,

Thanks for having this chat -- its very helpful. I would really like to have one of those wallet card, but the Monterey Aquarium only has one for West Coasters for now. Is there a card that people in this area could use? Thank you!

Susan Boa: Guess what, secret advance notice. not yet, but soon. there will be a local card coming out soon, before Thanksgiving. I’ll make sure and write into the chat and let Kim know when it is, so she can let you all know, but basically it’s going to cover the most popular species in the Chesapeake region. Stay tuned!

Somewhere, USA: Price is one reason I have a hard time being discriminating about my seafood. What are some good choices that are still relatively inexpensive?

Kim O'Donnel: Tilapia is moderately priced, right? Catfish, too?

Susan Boa: You're right, those are more inexpensive and great choices. farmed shellfish can be inexpensive. Canned salmon. Mackeral, bluefish, squid are less expensive.

Clifton, Va.: What color would farm raised salmon be if they weren't injected with dye? Is the dye safe?
Are flounder and Dover sole on the endangered list?

Susan Boa: They'd be a dull grey color. Salmon get their color from the food they eat in the wild. Since farmed are fed salmon chow, no color.

They say the dye is safe for people, though there have been a couple of cases of allergic reactions. I heard a chef once say he stopped using farmed salmon when he realized it was staining his cutting board.

Sole is a middle choice. Atlantic flounders tend to not be good choices. (Wow, very general there - check websites for more info).

Silver Spring, Md.: I cannot tolerate salmon or fresh tuna but have fallen in love with tilapia. I eat it almost every night. I am wondering what the nutritional value of tilapia is.

Kim O'Donnel: Susan isn't a nutritionist, but let's see if she has any thoughts...

Susan Boa: I dont' know, but the USDA has a great website where it tells you the nutrional values of almost anything you type in. Sally talks about this site in her Lean Plate Club chats. I don't have the link easily available, sorry!

Washington, D.C.: For the poster concerned about health benefits and salmon -- actually, research indicates that farmed salmon may not be that good for your health. Farmed salmon is fattier than wild, has relatively high levels of dioxins and biphenyls (PCBs) because they are fed fish meal and other additives. In the UK, there has been large media attention on Scottish salmon farming and the health impacts of farmed salmon. So, to truly get health benefits and know what you are eating, you might want to stick to wild salmon.

Susan Boa: There is more and more info coming out about health impacts. I don't know who's posting this, but thought I should pass it along.

tuna follow-up: You said Bluefin tuna is bad, what about other types of tuna? (Ahi). And, on the subject of my favorite types of sushi, what about yellowtail?

Susan Boa: Ahi is yellowfin tuna. Troll or poll caught OK, otherwise it is caught on a "longline" which tends to not be great. Longlines have high rates of "bycatch" - other things caught you don't want - associated with them.

Yellowtail, according to Audubon, is at extremely low levels, ubt beginning to show signs of recovery.

Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Could you please post your website address, along with urls for other related sites? Thanks!!

Kim O'Donnel: Seafood Choices Alliance Susan, would you like to add anything?

Susan Boa: Thanks Kim! We link to every site out there right now, click on the "partner" page and you'll see lots of places for more info.

Chantilly, Va.: For "somewhere" - Buy wild fish when they are at peak season for best value/price - local examples include; white perch in spring, croaker spring/summer, grey trout fall.

Kim O'Donnel: Great suggestion to familiarize one's self with seasons, just like with produce.

Susan Boa: Yep, exactly!

confusion over sea bass: Sorry for the confusion . . .
So, is the seafood at Fresh Fields that is NOT Chilean Sea Bass (although that is what it is labelled) a good choice?

Susan Boa: Most is, and Fresh Fields/Whole Foods tries. Not everything is, though they are getting better. They have farmed salmon, for example.

Quick point - iif you se Atlantic salmon, it's farmed. Kind of a code word.

Susan Boa: Juat a quick point -

this may seem like a lot to absorb. But remember we are in the EARLY days of learning more about this. Think about our language - there's plenty of fish in the sea is something you hear all the time. So we have to start a very basic place - there's NOT plenty of fish in the sea. The Ocean is not a limitless resource. But if we want to continue to enjoy the wide bounty mother nature provides us, we have to start paying attention.

I've heard seafood compared to wine - just as we choose grapes, bottlings, specific wineries - that's the level of detail we're looking at now with seafood.

But, don't despair! It's not impossible. Think of your 5 favorite seafoods, do a little web research, and learn just about those and make better decisions in that way - start small! Anything you do makes a difference.

Kim O'Donnel: Susan, I heard someone say at a sustainable seafood event in the spring that unlike the situation with livestock and family farms, which are individually or corporately owned, the oceans are the public trust. Can you comment on that?

Susan Boa: The oceans are a public trust. No one owns a piece of the ocean. WE do. It's ours. So that's why it's important we all play a part in taking care of it.

New York, N.Y.: Hey Susan! Lots of great information here. I wanted to ask, if I'm going to give up certain fish, like Chilean Sea Bass, for example, what can I substitute for it? Are there always good substitutions for fish that are in trouble?

Kim O'Donnel: I was just looking at the handy dandy pamphlet "Seafood Solutions" that Chefs Collaborative put out (I believe link is at top of page; if not, please holler) and in its seafood sub section, striped bass is listed as sub for Chilean sea bass as well as subs for grouper, snpaper, orange roughy and black sea bass. Susan, can you add anything?

Susan Boa: Great question. Sometimes there are direct substitutions, sometimes not. Our website tries to list some. And you can play around, too, with different preparations and try new things.

The Chefs Collaborative pamphlet is great and gives a nice primer to this issue.

Another company I want to mention is ecofish.com - the owner is awesome and only sells sustainable seafood.

Chinatown, Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the chat! What about shrimp? The Web site you posted says that a lot of red snapper are killed by shrimp trawlers. Are there good and bad shrimp?

Susan Boa: Wow, hour almost up and we haven't touched shrimp yet.

Shrimp is sadly not a great choice farmed or wild. It's another one of the toughie seafoods - we love shrimp, (I LOVE shrimp) but there are few sustainable options.

Wild shrimp have been overfished in many many areas. The gear used to catch shrimp - trawls - catch more of other things than they do of shrimp. In some areas of the world (especially Asia), this "bycatch" can be 5-10 times higher than the shrimp catch, and it's simply shoveled over, dead or dying. In US waters, trawling bycatch is lower - 2-3 times, but that's still high - and the bycatch is juvenile fish, starfish, worms, stuff we don't want, but stuff that makes the bottom of the ocean a diverse, dynamic, productive area. Killing it harms the ocean. And turtles are also caught and drowned in shrimp trawls - though in the US we use turtle excluder devices. Trap caught shrimp are the best choice for wild - but there's limited supply, in California and some in Maine. (hint – look for shrimp from colder waters, they’re more likely to be OK).

Farmed shrimp are a completely different set of problems. Shrimp farms are improving overall, worldwide, but there's much room for improvement. General problems - siting of farms (tons of mangroves - highly productive nursery areas for fish in tropical areas - are cleared for new farms), no treatment of waste - when a pod gets polluted, move down the coast and build a new one. Escpaes of farmed shrimp, antibiotic use, etc. Lots of farms are located in Asia and South America - places that don't have nearly the sane wastewater treatment requirements we have. One shrimp researcher told me last week that shrimp farms in Bankok are managed more like cess ponds than farms that grow FOOD for PEOPLE. Ugh.

Choose crawfish! (I did just last week). They are farmed in the US in freshwater raceways.

Sticks, Mt. Airy: What about softshell crabs here on the Eastern shore? They havent' been too plentiful either, in fact many grocereries in my area don't even carry them.

Susan Boa: Yep, softshell crabs are blue crabs that are shedding their outer shell in order to grow. What a great animal!

If there's not many hard crabs, there's not many soft shell.

Centre of Nowhere: Hi Susan and Kim!

Quick question - follow up to Arlington, VA and the farmed salmon no-nos... catfish is on the "go ahead and eat 'em!" list, so, how about farmed catfish? is that what you meant? or not?

I also should put in my two cents about what I've seen in the grocery stores - they promote the farmed fishes, both in price AND with little snippets attached to the sign/price labels stating that they (the farmed) are more friendly to the environment. Thank you for clearing this up!

Susan Boa: Almost all catfish you buy is farmed and a great choice.

I think more info for consumers is a great thing.

Farmed vs wild: Besides the question of sustainability, I've found that there is often a difference in tase between the farmed fish vs the wild. I've noticed it especially with salmon - luckily I like the wild much more. Can either of you speak to this, either in generalities or comment on specific species?


Kim O'Donnel: The taste is remarkably different. The wild salmon tastes like something.

Susan Boa: Good answer, Kim!

another restaurant that uses sustainably harvested seafood: ... Andale on 7th NW. I had dinner there the other night and the waitress said the sea bass was no longer on the menu, and that the chef keeps an eye on what seafood is in trouble.

Susan Boa: It's great how many places are getting involved.

Cafe Atlantico is another. Georgetown Seafood grille, too. McCormick and Schmicks has a pretty decent menu, with lots of info.

Not everyplace has a perfect menu, but you know what, that's OK. If we can shift just a little, we'll have made a huge difference.

Source for sustainable seafood: I know this is probably too late, but the Silver Spring Co-op on Grubb Road carries a line of what is said to be sustainably harvested frozen seafood and fish.

Susan Boa: I'll post this without comment, I don't know them.

Kim O'Donnel: Susan has graciously agreed to go a little past the hour and take more questions.

Arlington, Va.: So what about the seafood vendors at the Main Avenue wharf? The folks over there aren't terribly good about knowing what products are local, farm-raised, or wild. I have purchased some very fresh snapper and bass there, but I have no idea where those fish come from.

Susan Boa: I think the more we can ask questions, the more the places will learn they need to KNOW the answers.

Chantilly, Va.: Greetings Susan -- do you think the blue crab can ever rebound as long as we allow the VA watermen to dredge them in winter? and, will there ever be any efective conservation measures if individual states dont work together on a plan as opposed to working to protect their own interests?

Kim O'Donnel: There's an active conservation network in Va., no?

Susan Boa: this is a good question. I grew up in Maryland and have to admit a bias. But we need to think of the Virginia watermen, too, who catch most of their crabs in the winter.

Bottom line - We do need BOTH states to work together.

There are great local conservation groups - The Chesapeake Bay Foundation can probably tell you more about how to get involved.

Saranac Lake, N.Y.: Are farm-raised salmon fed dye to color
the meat? Why is the meat so fatty?

Which types of salmon are the safest to
eat to limit one's exposure to mercury and

Is it safe to feed canned tuna to a 14
month old baby? Will he become
exposed to mercury or other toxins?

Kim O'Donnel: Many questions! Susan, actually I am interested in why farm-raised salmon seems so much more fatty than wild.

Susan Boa: There is a lot here. Farmed salmon are fattier because the producers think we like them that way. They are fed in those pens, while wild salmon are sleek because they'er out in the wild foraging for their food.

The dye is fed to them.

I can't answer the questions on contaminants - I'd feel a lot better if you check with the FDA.

Clifton, Va.: I buy only fresh fish. I get my fresh shrimp from American Seafood in Arlington. Cant stand frozen. Frozen always tastes like Mrs Pauls to me. Is sole or lemon flounder on any lists?

Susan Boa: I dont' know about lemon flounder. Sole is OK from the Pacific, not a good choice from the Atlantic, according to both Monterey Bay Aq and Adubon's Living Oceans.

Susan Boa: Thanks so much for all the thoughtful question out there. I had a great time, wish I could have answered them all. For more info, please do look into a few websites, http://www.seafoodchoices.com. Or, feel free to e-mail info@seafodchoices.com

I'll also be sure to let Kim know when the local card is available.

Kim O'Donnel: Many thanks to Susan Boa of Seafood Choices Alliance and to all of you who participated. I agree, great provocative questions, and a very interesting conversation! See you all next time. Cheers.

© Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company


Home   |   Register               Web Search: by Google
channel navigation