The depletion of fish stocks around the world has top chefs arming themselves with the toolsneeded to make informed decisions to assure a future with abundant ocean wildlife.
"I have long been aware of the depleting choice of wild fish from the oceans," says Keith Froggett, co-owner and executive chef at Toronto's Scaramouche Restaurant, where he says it's a regular topic of conversation.
'With all the dire warnings out there, I think people are starting to pay more attention.' —Keith Frogget, Scaramouche Restaurant
But Froggett's experience shows education and research are needed because he has found that even when you think you're doing the right thing, you may still be hurting the environment. Last year, for example, he was using organically raised farmed salmon from the West Coast on his menus.
"We got a call from the Monterey Bay Aquarium pointing out that they were having some difficulties with the impact that these farms were having on the environment," he explains.
The aquarium,based in Monterey, Calif., aims to inspire conservation of the oceans through education and its Seafood Watch guides, which pinpoint fish to avoid orthat are a better choice.
The chef immediately discontinued using that product, turning instead to a sea cod farm in the Shetland Islands.
Chefs concerned about environmental impact
"There is no by-catch involved in the raising of the fish, and they rotate their pens as well and don't continually farm in the same area of the ocean. They give the ocean bed a chance to replenish itself."
"By-catch," Froggett explains, is the word for the unwanted fish caught by trawlers that string long nets behind them and dredge the ocean floor. A boat fishing for one particular species might catch 40 others, and all of the unwanted fish are killed in the process.
Hector Jimenez, who recently joined the Delta Fredericton in New Brunswick as executive chef from the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in St. Petersburg, Russia, is equally concerned about the devastation of the fishery around the world.
Sturgeon caught in Russia's Caspian Sea is prized for its caviar — and is also high on the list of endangered species.
"There are regulations to protect the species, but many fishermen don't care about that. They catch the fish illegally and use methods they are not supposed to, such as by-catching," says the Colombian-born Jimenez.
Restaurants buy 70% of seafood in N.A.
Froggett has been named a chef ambassador of the aquarium's Seafood Watch program, which gives consumers, retailers and restaurateurs the right tools and information to make seafood choices.
Canada's SeaChoice, this country's fish watch program, and other programs like it are "a step in the right direction to raise public awareness," says Froggett.
"With all the dire warnings out there, I think people are starting to pay more attention.
"Seventy per cent of all seafood purchased in North America is purchased through restaurants, so that puts chefs in a pretty good position to have some impact on these decisions."