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Is your seafood hurting the planet?

October 20, 2009 |  2:30 pm

Salmon Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger sometimes send their menus to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to make sure the seafood they serve is sustainable. And sometimes there are fish "we love and we can't buy, and it drives me crazy," Milliken says.

They made ceviche at the California Science Center this morning to support some new initiatives from the aquarium and Science Center to preserve the oceans.

The aquarium, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, released a report today on the state of the oceans. Prospects for the oceans are improving with a growing consensus to manage wild and farm fishing, the report says. But it also cites the human demand for seafood as the primary factor in the oceans' decline.

The aquarium released a "Super Green" list, developed with the Harvard School of Public Health and the Environmental Defense Fund, of seafood that is healthy for people and the planet.

Sustainable seafood is catching on with the public and with professionals, according to Milliken, aquarium officials and others. But it's not always easy.

"You have to have so many things in mind to be a conscientious consumer," Milliken says. She recently turned down some Caribbean shrimp because, while the seller was moving toward sustainable practices, it was not there yet.

"I love a lot of products that are not sustainable, but I want my kids and grandkids to be able to taste them, too. I've had my share," Milliken says. "A little bit of everything won't hurt you. But I think we've gotten very kind of gluttonous."

The restaurants she and Feniger own now offer "good for the planet" dishes called "80/20," meaning that no more than 20% of the ingredients come from animals.They are among two dozen chefs who are part of the aquarium's campaign to get restaurants to serve sustainable seafood.

Companies like Santa Monica Seafood, the largest, are also collaborating with the aquarium. Logan Kock, purchasing director for Santa Monica Seafood, says the company will look at what it sells in terms of its species, country of origin and fishing methods to come up with a baseline. It will then educate its sales force and its customers with the goal of making "a substantial difference over the next five years."

Many consumers are baffled, however. "People ask me, 'Should I be eating seafood or chicken?'" says Sheila Brown, outreach manager for Seafood Watch, the aquarium's program to guide consumer choices. "People should be eating seafood and supporting the guys who are doing it right."

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Wild Alaska Salmon is a sustainable fishery. Fish must be labeled according to what country it comes from and whether it is wild-caught or farmed. Credit: Richard Hartog/Los Angeles Times