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Sustainable Seafood [moved from San Diego board]

honkman Jan 15, 2011 12:22 AM

[NOTE: We've moved this discussion from the thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/759471 -- The Chowhound Team]

Josh always reminds people of the negative effects of eating commodity beef/meats. I know a lot of people love all kinds of sushi but especially some fish species populations are strongly declining. It's not so much a question around Kaito specifically but more about sushi places and its customers in general how much they care about for example the well regarded Monterey Seafood Watch list. Bluefin is one of the best and most written about examples - wild caught and farmed/ranched bluefin tuna is on the avoid list (many countries were strongly pushing for a ban last year but it failed for political reasons) but many sushi bars still serve it. It's a problem similar (or even more pressing) than commodity meat and how much ethical issue should play a role in food choices

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  1. cgfan RE: honkman Jan 15, 2011 02:07 AM

    I prefer to have my meals sans the politics, for as long as the world would let me...

    Here's a chance, however, to throw in my 2 cents...

    To the above I'm tempted to not so much ask about what the negative effects of eating commodity beef/meats is, but rather of the negative effects of eating only the "choicest" parts of our livestock. Why shouldn't that be a major part of the debate, or perhaps be THE central debate?

    The very fact that we can have a thread about "bizarre foods" succinctly illustrates just how naive our eating habits are in the U.S. As I've implied above I do not find any of the items I listed to be bizarre. Bizarre is how inefficient the consumption of animals products is in this country.

    Only the few amongst us who have regularly dined at Kaito realize just how much reverence Morita-san holds for the seafood that the shop brings in. Morita-san quietly says a prayer with every item that he cuts down at his station during service. So much so that he is fond of saying that he cares more about his fish than of his customers.

    It's no wonder that from just such a reverence comes the sacred use of every possible part of the fish. If only all U.S. Sushi bars went through a traditional prep before opening every day, perhaps they'd also show the same amount of reverence towards their precious ingredients, rather than treat it like some inert ingredient to be "flavored" (in much the manner of the ice cream jockeys who mix-in all sorts of trash into what used to be a premium ice cream).

    If stones need to be cast I'd say that the rare gem of a traditional Sushi bar is a poor place to start. Ironically I find them instead to be a model for the efficient use of food stocks.

    In the meantime for as long as the world would let me, I prefer to have my meals sans the politics...

    5 Replies
    1. re: cgfan
      Josh RE: cgfan Jan 15, 2011 06:58 AM

      It seems very strange to me that a topic like sustainability should be considered political. It shows just how badly the punditocracy has gone in their Orwellian quest to redefine the language.

      At one point in American history, to be conservative meant what it sounds like - the first conservationists were so described, and passed laws preserving vast areas of the American wilderness. Nowadays, it seems that to be conservative means one must support the fastest rate of resource depletion possible.

      It is strange to me that this should be considered a political question when it is quite clearly a scientific one. If there are measurable populations of fish that are observed to be declining, in some cases precipitously, then it would stand to reason that hunting and eating fewer of these species will result in the species surviving and not being hunted to extinction.

      Or is there some other angle I'm missing here that makes this a political issue?

      1. re: cgfan
        b
        bulavinaka RE: cgfan Jan 15, 2011 08:09 AM

        I think all of you have many points that are well taken. Political? That doesn't seem to be the right term, but anything can become politicized - maybe "responsibility" is a term I can accept, which then brings up another issue. I have an issue with why someone would would not consider the impact of one's actions or choices? To disregard one's impact on the world, no matter how small, is fatalistic. With billions more on this planet than anyone could have imagined as possible and sustainable, individual actions result in magnitudes of change that can have lasting if not permanent impacts. Making responsible decisions and choices are each individual's duty. I've never been to Kaito, but it sounds like Morita-san is the consummate itamae. I think if everyone were to respect and care for the resources they draw with this kind of reverence, the world wouldn't be in this sort of predicament. Shark fins are a classic example which I think all who are so far on this thread can relate to. I've been skewered on other threads relating to this issue, because "it's cultural", "it would be an insult to the host not to partake in this dish", and yadah et al. So is this politicizing food? Or are many just more concerned about satisfying some culinary or cultural issue while closing their eyes to the realistic consequences of their choices?

        1. re: cgfan
          honkman RE: cgfan Jan 15, 2011 10:39 AM

          I don't see anywhere that this topic is about politics but responsibilities. All chefs and customers have responsibilities about the food they offer and eat. I agree that once a chef has bought an animal he/she should respect it by using all parts of it in a thoughtful manner. But the question here is not about how to use an animal but which animals do you purchase as a chef and which animal do you consume as a customer. It's nice that Morita-san says a prayer with every item that he cuts down but that doesn't help if he purchases something which might be extinct soon. It's very short-term thinking and shows that he cares more about the customer than the fish. It's also one of the reasons why I like a restaurant like Passionfish in Pacific Grove which really tries to educate customers about their fish choices (including gving out Monterey Watchlist).

          1. re: cgfan
            d
            DougOLis RE: cgfan Jan 19, 2011 09:14 AM

            Even at the cost of future generations not being able to enjoy it as well as you lead to its destruction? That'd be like saying that you want to use up all the oil you can because, hey, why not? It's there, you enjoy it, so might as well use it all up until it's gone. After that, all be damned.

            In my opinion, seafood sustainability is far more important than land animal sustainability because we're talking about the extinction of species versus the exploitation of species.

            1. re: DougOLis
              j
              jumpingmonk RE: DougOLis Jan 19, 2011 03:58 PM

              "In my opinion, seafood sustainability is far more important than land animal sustainability because we're talking about the extinction of species versus the exploitation of species."

              That's really only because, proportionately a far larger portion of seafood that the average person consumes is wild caught. Granted it is perfectly possible to farm many forms of sea life, and you could probably have a fairly wide spread of fish and seafood with everything being farmed. But what is merely common for seafood is almost universal for landfood. Unless you do a lot of hunting (or know someone who does) almost all of the land-based animal protein you eat comeds from domesticated animals bred for that purpose at least in this country. Seeing meat from truly wild-caught animals for sale in your local market would be rare sight here (In fact, I'm pretty sure it's illegal); seeing wild caught fish and seafood is not. The closest land analouge to the seafood situation I can think of might be the trade in "bush meat" and there; the threat of extintion of consumed species of animals is very real.

          2. ipsedixit RE: honkman Jan 15, 2011 11:10 AM

            You must first ask and address one presumptive question before talking about sustainability.

            Why is sustainability of any species important?

            No species lives forever. Dinosaurs have died. Humans one day will die.

            How do you (generic "you") know or can be certain that Bluefin tuna's time on this good earth is not at its end?

            Moreover, how do you know (again, generic "you") know or can be certain that maintaining the sustainability of Bluefin tuna (or any species) is actually a "good" thing for the environment?

            I know my own position regarding food vis-a-vis the environment. I am not here to convince anyone to either see it may way or to change their minds. To each her own.

            But I think the talk about sustainability presupposes an assumption that, to me anyways, is far from certain.

            Just my 0.02.

            Eat what you enjoy. Enjoy what you eat.

            8 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit
              b
              bulavinaka RE: ipsedixit Jan 15, 2011 12:51 PM

              >>Why is sustainability of any species important?<<

              >>No species lives forever. Dinosaurs have died. Humans one day will die.<<

              >>But I think the talk about sustainability presupposes an assumption that, to me anyways, is far from certain.<<

              To assume the opposite is reckless and hopelessly fatalistic in my opinion. The human animal had little impact on the world's ecosystems as a whole until very recent times. Ecosystems have complexities that even the most knowledged don't fully understand. I consider these systems to be like multi-layered multi-dimensional chessboards where we still don't have a grasp of how the individual pieces work, let alone how the whole game is played. We have no playbook, no references to cite, etc., as to what will come of this level and rate of exploitation and disregard. But looking at previous smaller examples where civilizations have formed, overtaxed the local ecosystems, then consequently imploded and failed, this may be a telling tale for the global community consider.

              1. re: bulavinaka
                ipsedixit RE: bulavinaka Jan 15, 2011 01:35 PM

                >>>The human animal had little impact on the world's ecosystems as a whole until very recent times.

                And, you know this, how? Not trying to be disagreeable, but the human race has only been recording it's impact on the environment for a minute period of time (relative to it's time as a species on this planet).

                All species -- humans included -- have always had an impact on the ecosystem. It is just now that we've begun to monitor and understand it.

                >>>>> We have no playbook, no references to cite, etc., as to what will come of this level and rate of exploitation and disregard.

                Exactly. No playbook. So why assume it is the "right play" to preserve a species, as opposed to seeking its extinction? How do you (generic "you") know for a certainty that human's rate of "exploitation and disregard" is not what is actually positive for the ecosystem? How do you know -- for a fact - that without Bluefin tuna there would not therefore be the chance for another (yummier?) species to either form and/or thrive?

                >>>>> But looking at previous smaller examples where civilizations have formed, overtaxed the local ecosystems, then consequently imploded and failed, this may be a telling tale for the global community consider.

                Yes, and that's why I said previously that no species lives forever -- humans included. Again, I ask, how do you know that our actions today is not what is intended by the laws of nature. In other words, why are humans so self-righteous as to believe that we either *can* or *should* be able to thwart our own extinction -- esp. if extinction is our intended ecological and biological fate?

                Again, bulavinaka, I don't mean to stir the hornet's nest, nor do I intend to change and/or persuade people's view of the ecosystem vis-a-vis their food choices.

                All I am trying to raise is that we are presupposing something -- that sustainability is a positive or correct thing -- that isn't necessarily so axiomatic or tautologically obvious, at least not based on the evidence that I've seen.

                1. re: ipsedixit
                  b
                  bulavinaka RE: ipsedixit Jan 15, 2011 02:40 PM

                  >>And, you know this, how? Not trying to be disagreeable, but the human race has only been recording it's impact on the environment for a minute period of time (relative to it's time as a species on this planet).<<

                  No recorded history (books, tablets, etc.) are necessary for this kind of knowledge. The lack of highly concentrated permanent populations through much of the world is what was the norm through most of human history - fewer bodies per square unit, less impact. When a local ecosystem was nearing or at full exploitation, whether seasonally or otherwise, populations would move on, and the systems would eventually regain a balance. Populations centers with more mass and permanence (whether by choice or circumstance e.g., islands) that eventually peaked and imploded have been thoroughly studied by archeologists and anthropologists. Unsustainable resource depletion has been pointed out as one of the key factors (if not THE key factor) to many studied cultures' demises.

                  >>All species -- humans included -- have always had an impact on the ecosystem. It is just now that we've begun to monitor and understand it.<<

                  Total agreement, but the statement is not so simple. The question is relative to the existing ecosystem, how long have humans intervened and at what level? Siting my own limited experience, having dived in the S. Pacific, I was fortunate to visit a number of sites multiple times over the span of about seven years. Diving in areas where very few if any have dived or even fished (at a nonsubsistence/commercial level), I was able to see before and after, from pristine to degraded in that short of a time span. Once a reef is petered out for what ever reason, the projected recovery rate is really unknown. Lots of factors involved in its projected recovery rate, but in human time, it's very very long - and that's assuming no further encroachment. The typical consequences are locals having to by more fuel with what little money they have, to travel further out to find less than they did locally - this will then impact other population centers (other tribes, villages, islands).
                  The impacted villagers in turn find their lives degraded because they must spend more time and resources in order to physically sustain themselves. This effects all other parts of their lives individually, as a family, a tribe/village/community, which then taxes the the broader infrastructure, and so on. Some are courted by resorts/tourism and see it as a windfall/savior from these consequences of resource exploitation, and it is at first - for some (usually tribal/community leaders and governances at many levels). However, most will end up with jobs that take them no where, and make them even more dependent on other resources outside of their normal grasp. Influx of tourism often exacerbates the issues, bringing in much higher rates and various types of pollution, further resource depletion and devastating changes to their cultural and social structure. Again, this is my personal observation, but this kind of rapid and (so far) permanent change happened over a nanosecond in terms of these populations' existence.

                  >>Exactly. No playbook. So why assume it is the "right play" to preserve a species, as opposed to seeking its extinction? How do you (generic "you") know for a certainty that human's rate of "exploitation and disregard" is not what is actually positive for the ecosystem? How do you know -- for a fact - that without Bluefin tuna there would not therefore be the chance for another (yummier?) species to either form and/or thrive?<<

                  Bluefin are considered a top or near to the top apex predator. Their shear numbers alone indicate that they are a crucial part in keeping an overall balance in the oceans systems, as do all apex predators, but their collective biomass being displaced in the ocean will lead to unknown consequences. Does another predator(s) take its place/role? Are the bluefin's natural prey species numbers and health going to explode than implode? How does this/these potential scenarios play out and impact other parts of this and surrounding ecosystems, and so on. Will their be a ripple effect? Will their be an "edge" effect? The questions are too numerous for eaters (who are even greater in numbers and impact) to just blow off and and side on folly. I couldn't care if bluefin was yummy or tasted like tire rubber, cute or ugly, crawled, swam or slithered - the main issue is when a species falls to numbers of imminent collapse, why should be keep pushing it further? If they do collapse, do the folly-prone have the ability to repair the potential damage that was done?

                  >>Yes, and that's why I said previously that no species lives forever -- humans included. Again, I ask, how do you know that our actions today is not what is intended by the laws of nature. In other words, why are humans so self-righteous as to believe that we either *can* or *should* be able to thwart our own extinction -- esp. if extinction is our intended ecological and biological fate?<<

                  I don't think it's self-righteous to believe we can or should thwart our own extinction. All species have some form of self-protection/preservation instinct in them. Some can even plan ahead, whether it's a few minutes, hours, days or whatever, in order to increase their chances of survival. Humans are the same, and even have he concept of self, which many organisms don't have. And much of that has to do with our ability to reason. Most organisms will not do something contrary to their survival, unless it is programmed in their DNA, eg, a future food source for their expectant young, etc. Humans tend to be different in this respect, at least most are. We are a mixed bag of cultures, beliefs, etc., where it seems many are willing to degrade our chances if future survival for the sake of something in the present. Other organisms may act the same, but they do so in not knowing the consequences. We do. If one is fatalistic in their personal philosophy toward themselves, their siblings, future generations and to others for that matter, not much can be done about that. I myself would want a far better future for my kids.

              2. re: ipsedixit
                Josh RE: ipsedixit Jan 15, 2011 01:52 PM

                By any measurement you care to look at, the ocean's population of fish has diminished dramatically since the human practice of large scale commercial fishing.

                So, the answer to your first question, a disingenuous question IMO, is that of course species do die off and become extinct. But to say that is somehow inevitable or that we are helpless to do anything about it is completely nuts.

                We have many examples from history to look at of people who carelessly hunted their food sources to extinction. Presumably, we're smarter than that.

                Responsibly management of resources, including fish stocks, can ensure that people can continue to enjoy seafood into the future. Fishing species into extinction would be incredibly stupid and short-sighted.

                Thinking about our food and the future of our species is simply common sense. Putting our heads in the sand and wantonly consuming our way through the planet's resources can only be bad for us in the long run.

                1. re: ipsedixit
                  honkman RE: ipsedixit Jan 15, 2011 02:27 PM

                  There are in general two main different approaches to this issue about sustainability (and many things beyond) - First a more quasi "religious" based one which points towards that it might be nature's (god's) intent that species can become extinct and that there is hardly anything we can do against it. Arguments against their thoughts will be countered with the typical "how do you know that our actions today is not what is intended by the laws of nature". And any further argument against it will also be blocked with "but it could be nature's (god') will"
                  The second approach is science based and looks at the complexity of "multi-layered multi-dimensional" ecosystems and see them as an integral part of this planet and tries to assess the problems which an unbalance (for example by the extinction of a species) could cause for the whole systems and tries to act against it.
                  Both systems are also fundamentaly different in terms of responsibilities - one believes we don't have any significant one because a "higher power", e.g. nature, is responsible, the other one thinks about personal responsibility and tries to act on it. Centuries have shown that it is nearly impossible to bring these two sides together.

                  1. re: honkman
                    ipsedixit RE: honkman Jan 15, 2011 05:29 PM

                    All (bulavinaka, Josh, honkman),

                    I've enjoyed the discourse and appreciate each of your perspectives on this issue.

                    I'm not sure anything more needs to be said on the issue, and I fear any further discourse may only lead to contentious debate and hard feelings.

                    Suffice to say, I think we can all agree that this is an issue that deserves attention and discussion -- no matter what side of the fence one eats on, right?

                    Cheers.

                    1. re: ipsedixit
                      MGZ RE: ipsedixit Jan 16, 2011 04:51 AM

                      I enjoyed reviewing the discussion and your gracious stab at closure. I have no interest in contributing to any of the ethical, political, scientific, etc. issues at hand, nor am I seeking to stir the pot. I pose simply the selfish, food geek interest - to all: What about sustaining a species simply so that I may eat it? I mean, didn't you ever wonder what, say, a Labrador Duck tasted like?

                      1. re: MGZ
                        CCSPRINGS RE: MGZ Jan 16, 2011 05:48 AM

                        A bit of lateral motion I suppose... Sustainability means trying to help/aid a species because of anthropogenic pressure. If a cataclysm or some other natural event eliminates a species then a person can sleep better. Proposing the idea that bluefin extinction may be part of the bigger picture, when we are doing it is absurd. Sort of like the climate issue. Because the geologic record shows carbon dioxide level fluctuation, it is ok that it is high at the moment. We are causing the change but will not agree that is a problem because conservatives claim economic repercussions if there is a shift in energy consumption. My 2 pennies.

                        Back to the issue. If a population is sustained to a healthy level where it is able to grow and expand back toward it's former range and numbers then it is ok to eat a few I suppose. Does not apply to whales and dolphins of course. This is sticky stuff I just discovered.

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