Monday, April 20, 2009

Sea Choice announces a sustainable sushi guide!

I love sushi. I have yet to master the art of eating sushi gracefully, and probably never will, (uncoordinated people take note: sushi + first date = early end to the evening) but at least the folks at SeaChoice have made it easy for me to master the art of eating sushi in a sustainable way. Their new, wallet-sized guide features sustainability information for seafood commonly found on sushi menus by ranking items as green (Best Choice), yellow (Some Concerns) or red (Avoid) options.

A growing facet of the seafood market in Canada, sushi restaurants often offer species – including bluefin tuna and farmed salmon – that are harvested unsustainably. But there are many “Best Choice” alternatives. Canada’s Sustainable Sushi Guide provides a detailed list of seafood items that have healthy populations and come from well-managed fisheries that don’t cause significant harm to ocean environments and other sea life. The guide offers sushi chefs and diners alike great alternatives for their favourite menu items, including local albacore tuna and Dungeness crab, as well as several new ones like Arctic char or sablefish.

With the addition of the sushi card to SeaChoice's offerings, my sushi choices are relatively guilt-free. Now, if only I could find a pocket card with pointers on how I can eat my sustainable sushi, carry on a conversation, and leave the restaurant with a clean shirt and an invite for a second date, my sushi choices would be relatively embarrassment-free as well.

You can download your own SeaChoice pocket sushi guide here.

If you want to learn even more about sustainable sushi, read Casson Trenor's "Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving the Oceans One Bite at a Time".

Note: The pictures of the sustainable sushi in this post are some of the delicious menu offerings from Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar in San Francisco.


  1. This is great! Thanks for writing a very informative (and amusing) post. I've already seen things that I order on a regular basis (unagi) that I will no longer order. My only question is: in instances where the same fish falls in the different categories, how do we know when it's in the red vs. yellow category (i.e. maguro)?

  2. Thanks for the great question, Kate. For the answer, I turned to our Markets Campaign Coordinator, Shauna MacKinnon:

    In some cases one type of fish can be caught or farmed using different practices or come from different regions—and each of these differences can result in a different level of sustainability. Tuna is one of the most popular types of seafood, and it is one of the most complex in terms of sustainability with many species, catch methods and countries of origin. But, don’t despair! The more sushi customers ask questions about the sustainability of the fish being served the more readily the answers will be available.

    Maguro refers to two types of tuna, bigeye and yellowfin, and these are caught using two categories of gear: troll/pole and longlines. Troll/pole gear catches tuna on single hooks while longlines set out thousands of hooks, as a result the number of unintentionally caught fish, birds or marine mammals is much higher with longlines than troll/pole gear. This makes longlines a less sustainable gear type. However, in countries where there are stronger regulations for reporting and monitoring unintentional catch the impacts of longlines may not be as severe as in countries where management and regulation are weak. In the case of bigeye and yellowfin tuna, those caught in the US with longlines are in the yellow “Some Concerns” category while those caught outside the US are in the red “Avoid” category.

    When you are at a sushi restaurant and you see tuna on the menu you are going to need more information to determine the sustainability of the particular tuna they are serving. First, what species of tuna is it – albacore, bigeye, yellowfin or bluefin? If it is bluefin, it is definitely an “avoid”. Don’t order this critically endangered species!

    If it is another type of tuna you’ll need to ask a few more questions… what country it’s from will typically be easier for a restaurant to answer than the gear. Country of origin is tracked for every shipment of seafood imported into Canada. If the restaurant does not know the country of origin, one call to their seafood supplier will get them more information. While gear is often not tracked, many suppliers know this level of information so restaurants that want to know can find out. (And restaurants will want to know when their customers are asking!)

    If Albacore is on the menu and it’s from BC, Washington or Oregon you’re in luck. It’s “Best Choice”, all of the albacore in this area is caught using troll/pole methods. Troll/pole, sometimes referred to as “hook and line” is what you want when you eat albacore. If it is caught using longline gear, Hawaii is the only region that makes it into the yellow “Some Concerns” category, the rest falls into the red, “Avoid”.

    Bigeye and yellowfin are more straightforward. All troll/pole is in the yellow “Some Concerns”. If it is caught using longlines those from the US Atlantic are “Some Concerns” and the rest are “Avoid”.

    I know that the complexity of determining the what, where and how of each type of seafood you put on your plate can be overwhelming. To make it easier on yourself (and your fellow diners) you can approach sustainable sushi as a learning process. Get to know a few of the more straightforward sustainable options to start with. Tackle the tuna questions at your favourite restaurants and you will start to get familiar with what is available in your local market. Then you can go to other restaurants and ask for the same thing! Soon you will be recommending to sushi restaurants which regions or gear types they could be sourcing from to improve the sustainability of their selections.

    Each sustainable sushi eater is still a pioneer! Be brave, be bold, and try not to get frustrated even when your questions are met with blank stares. Your efforts will help keep fish in our oceans and sushi on our plates for years to come!

  3. Thank you, Heather and Shauna! I think I'm going to have to print out this answer and bring it with me the next time I order sushi. :-)

  4. This is great, but the link to the free seachoice pocket sushi guide isn't working. Is that temporary?

  5. Thanks for alerting us about the missing link. I've updated it, so it should work. But here is the url for the guide just in case: