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If your tastes tend more to sushi, you likely know that a lot of fish stocks have been dwindling lately. Good news. There are ways to eat raw fish without feeling guilty about the environmental consequences. KQED's Rachael Myrow reports from San Francisco.
RACHAEL MYROW: There are currently two sushi restaurants in the U.S. that claim to serve nothing but sustainable fish. One in Portland, Oregon, one here in San Francisco. Tataki, a pint-sized joint on where else, California Street, even has a seafood sustainability expert on staff, Casson Trenor.
Mr. CASSON TRENOR (Seafood Sustainability Expert): The fact that we've been able to make it successful has only a small amount to do with myself and with the chefs and with our staff. It has a lot more to do with our consumers, with people that come in here and support us. And I think it says a great deal about changing mindsets and shifting baselines in general.
MYROW: On a recent afternoon after the lunch rush, Trenor sat down with two compatriots from one of the most active organizations trying to change consumer habits, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Perhaps you've seen diners pull out one of its pocket guides. There are some 27 million in circulation in the U.S., not counting the iPhone app. The guides flag which fish species are environmentally sound to eat in red, yellow, and green. Farmed abalone, green; wild abalone, red, and so on. Of course, keeping the guides up to date requires regular research.
Ms. STEPHANIE DANNER (Fisheries Research Manager, Aquarium Sustainable Seafood Initiative): Let's see what I'm looking...
MYROW: Stephanie Danner of the Aquarium Sustainable Seafood Initiative peruses Tataki's menu. She's particularly fond of the way Tataki anticipates the unsustainable choices diners hanker for and then offers palate-pleasing alternatives.
Ms. DANNER: One of the most popular items on sushi menus is unagi, which is freshwater eel. The populations have been overfished, and now they're taking the juveniles and fattening them up. And I think it's really great here - you guys use sablefish, don't you?
Mr. TRENOR: Black cod. We cook it twice in a particular way, and then we use a special house sauce and some sesame seeds, and it does the trick. It's really, I mean, if I do say so myself. (Laughs) It's pretty impressive.
MYROW: You won't find the incomparably buttery bluefin tuna here, as it's on the brink of extinction. There's albacore instead and sometimes yellowfin, depending on where and how it's caught. Trenor's attention to these details disqualifies a number of tasty items from the menu and guarantees the customer a clean conscience.
Increasingly, other sushi bars are making some sustainable choices, but most balk at committing to serve nothing else, and most don't make sustainability a prominent issue on the menu. Unless a diner browses a guide in the restaurant or memorizes it beforehand, the only way to know for sure is to ask.
Mr. TRENOR: You have to ask the waitress every time. The short answer is no, but the long answer is kind of yes. And if we want to save our oceans, we got to rally.
MYROW: Can you name an example of a success story where people became aware of a species in trouble and backed off?
Mr. TRENOR: There have been a few. The first one that comes to mind is swordfish coming out of the Atlantic. There was a real problem with a lot of overfishing, and people really backed off, and a number of those swordfish stocks have actually recovered. I think the same could be said, to a degree, for things like orange roughy and Chilean sea bass.
MYROW: But the market won't self-correct if diners don't self-correct. That's according to Jeff Chester. He is the senior science manager with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.
Mr. JEFF CHESTER (Senior Science Manager, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch): And part of what we're trying to do is really show people that this is an area where you can change the marketplace through what you buy.
MYROW: Eating what we want to, regardless of the extinction threat, is arguably easier, that is until the day the last shimmering piece of delectable fish is served up on a plate. For NPR News, I'm Rachael Myrow in San Francisco.
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