Saving the oceans, one bite at a time
By Jackie Burrell
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Most New Year's resolution lists include booze bans, butter vetoes and similar draconian dietary restrictions. Small wonder, then, that most resolutions don't last too long. But take a page from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Ed Cassano and your eat-green resolution could become a delectable, sustainable and deprivation-free way of life.
Cassano oversees the aquarium's Seafood Watch program, celebrating its 10th year of encouraging diners and shoppers to consult its color-coded fish wisdom before picking up a fork.
What began a decade ago as a series of disappearing tent cards on the tables of the aquarium's Portola Cafe has grown to include 32 million people in all regions of the country, as well as major seafood purveyors and restaurants — including Berkeley's Chez Panisse, Palo Alto's Shokolaat and the Bay Area-based Il Fornaio chain. Now, there's an iPhone app, too.
We sat down with Cassano to get the lowdown on the popular program.
Q. How did Seafood Watch start anyway? With the aquarium's 1997 "Fishing for Solutions" exhibit?
A. That exhibit caused a lot of folks to get that there were concerns to be aware of — but we needed to be walking the talk. We looked at our own practices in our own cafe, thinking, "We should be providing fish that meets the criteria of sustainability." And then, we provided these tent cards on the tables at the Portola Cafe, saying, "Here are the good choices."
Q. Like the cards most restaurants use to hawk their dessert specials?
A. Yes. The tent cards started to disappear. People took them with them. That's how the Seafood Watch program was born. Now there are regional pocket guides and versions in Spanish and, of course, a sushi pocket guide as well.
Q. As in "order the shiro maguro, not the bluefin"?
A. A lot depends on how it's caught, where it's caught. A lot of tuna may be "red," (on the avoid list) but here are some other good alternatives. It's a fundamental system of choice. What are the best choices you can make around the issues of sustainability? Anything on the "red list," there are serious concerns about the aquaculture product or wild capture fishery.
Q. So those coded green are the best options, and the yellow?
A. Good alternatives. We created science-based criteria — using a team of science advisers and leaders around the nation and the world — to ask, "How does one define sustainable fisheries? Good management? Healthy stocks?" The pocket guide is just one of the tools that we use. If you're a consumer, we want you to have that dialogue with your restaurant chef, your market. Ask the questions, "Where does it come from?" The more people demand that their choices be sustainable, the more the producers of the products want to provide it. I find it so powerful.