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Seeking guilt-free sushi and sashimi

Sushicards_2 You knew it had to happen. The fish-huggers who have for years put out wallet cards to help diners choose sustainable seafood, have finally focused on — what else? — sushi.

Some of the information on cards won't be all that palatable to sushi lovers, at least those who are especially susceptible to guilt.  Although these three guidebooks display a few differences, they collectively turn up their noses at quite a few popular sushi treats.

Many of the tunas, for instance, fall in the to-be-avoided column of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch card, sushi version. There's toro, of course, the Japanese name for the fatty tuna belly of the heavily overfished bluefin tuna. But also maguro, which is often bigeye and yellowfin tuna.

If you choose to follow these cards, forget about farmed shrimp, which is what's usually offered under the name ebi,  freshwater eel called unagi, and farmed salmon, known as sake. Sake is OK if it's wild Alaskan salmon. And some types of ebi are more sustainable than others. Good luck trying to find a sushi chef who can tell you about the origins of the salmon or shrimp in the case.

The three new cards will be officially unveiled Oct. 22 at Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar, which the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Ken Peterson described "as the only fully sustainable sushi restaurant in the United States."

And therein lies the point. These groups want sushi chefs and sushi bar owners to think about more than the freshness, appearance and quality of their fish. Their idea is to prompt customers to start asking questions, hoping the chefs will notice and begin to alter their menus in a way that will help over-exploited fish stocks recover. For the health-conscious, there are also red flags marking fish known to carry particularly heavy loads of mercury, PCBs or other contaminants.

So just what's left to eat, other than rice?

There's Pacific halibut (hirame) and albacore tuna (shiro maguro), skipjack tuna or bonito (katsuo),  Spanish mackerel (aji or sawara), bay scallops (hotate), striped bass (suzuki),  salmon eggs (ikura), arctic char (iwana), spot prawn (amaebi), giant clam (mirugai), sea urchin roe (uni) and, of course, California rolls made with imitation crab called kanikama or surimi.

The cards will also be available Oct. 22 on the websites of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Blue Ocean Institute and the Environmental Defense Fund.

— Kenneth R. Weiss

Comments () | Archives (4)

The comments to this entry are closed.

The other commenters are right about your tone. Greenspace has been a disappointment so far. Emerald City focused too much on shopping and "greendrinks" but my gosh, at least she was passionate and enthusiastic, and tipped us off to local events and networking. If there was something we could DO, she suggested doing it. Dedicate one person to this blog, somebody who at least pretends to care about this subject. I don't want to read a blog that's just a catchall of world enviro-news, posted by somebody different every time.

No matter how you slice it, it's still a dead fish.
Why eat sushi at all?

One of the interesting educational points contained in the Blue Ocean Institute version of these guides is that many of the more popular sushi treats that turn out to have sustainability issues are actually not even traditional authentic sushi. I am familiar with the guide and contrary to the negative tone of the report here, the guide actually proposes a win-win situation for consumers -- you talk with the chef to get him to serve you more traditional Japanese sushi fish, which are less familiar to most of us but actually are more interesting to eat, and in the process you end up benefiting the ocean.

Wow. Why be so negative if you're really concerned about "greenspace"?

We can acknowledge disappointments but the alternative a fully depleted dead ocean is not so happy, either. Why not focus on the positives? Find a new choice you never tried before?

We do a sustainable seafood blog event each year in October and readers share their recipes and their stories. It's good fun, we learn from each other and from chefs, bloggers,home cooks...last year we even had a NASCAR driver share a recipe!

Better to focus on what we can do than to send out doom and gloom!

Stop by and join us, won't you?
Jacqueline Church
The Leather District Gourmet (dot) wordpress (dot) com


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