Since the beginning of time, humans have established communities next to life-giving oceans to harvest what seemed like a never-ending supply of bountiful proteins.
Fast forward to today. The demands on our oceans are at a record high, and we’re dangerously close to depleting the majority of the world’s edible fish. We’ve treated our waters like an all-you-can-eat buffet, in turn destroying habitats of the sea species to the point of extinction.
Scientists predict that by 2048 there will be a worldwide fisheries collapse, which is why it’s more important than ever to eat seafood caught or farmed in a sustainable way. Fortunately, industry leaders have increased awareness through programs such as Ocean Wise and SeaChoice, two prominent advocacy programs that actively promote better farming practices and sustainment initiatives for the fishing industry.
As more chefs get on board with serving sustainable seafood in their restaurants, there comes more opportunity to help change consumer demand. We asked two Alberta chefs what sustainable fish they bring to the table, despite the challenges cooking in a seafood-loving, but landlocked province.
Chef Jinhee Lee of Foreign Concept (Calgary)
Chef Jinhee Lee, 2017 Gold Medal Plates winner and executive chef at Calgary’s new modern Pan-Asian restaurant Foreign Concept, says she learned quickly how critical it is to source seafood from reputable suppliers to help keep oceans healthy.
“It’s our responsibility to be educated on the topic, but we’re also responsible for educating our guests,” she explains. “Taste can be a powerful motivator! Through different preparations and techniques, we can get them excited about what they’re eating.”
Avoiding “fan-favourites” like salmon or Chilean seabass — species of fish that don’t fall under the sustainable scope — Lee says it can be challenging offering sustainable options at a higher price.
“The more we normalize these practices and the more restaurants become Ocean Wise certified, the better understanding the customers will have,” she says. “My strategy isn’t necessarily educating them on why certain fish costs more, but rather why non-sustainable options cost so much less.”
Lee says she uses local, trustworthy suppliers like Meta4foods and City Fish for fresh and sustainable options. For the home cook, Lee says one of her favourite fish is arctic char, which can be found at both specialty seafood shops and regular grocery stores like Calgary Co-op.
Chef Jesse Morrison-Gauthier, chef of Grandin Fish N Chips (Edmonton)
Chef Jesse Morrison-Gauthier heads Edmonton’s trendy, new fish and chip shop offering seafood that’s both delicious, and sourced from sustainable producers.
“Knowing that fish stock worldwide is rapidly dwindling, I realized the importance of sourcing responsibly,” he says. “Once you have the knowledge and hear (or see) the facts, it’s impossible to ignore the responsibility to be more socially conscious.”
Morrison-Gauthier says the first step begins with a solid relationship with a fishmonger. Grandin Fish N Chips works with Fins of Sherwood Park and Edmonton’s Effing Seafood to haul in their supply of sustainable “catches of the day” like basa, haddock, cod, oysters, and clams.
“We avoid non-sustainable species like prawns, sea bass, and skate fish due to overfishing, low spawning rates, and unchartered processing regarding filler and plumping agents,” he explains. “Guests may question why we don’t carry certain species, but we feel comfortable with our choices knowing we are doing our part.”