Read an Excerpt from LURE, The New Cookbook From Sustainability Champion Chef Ned Bell
Most of us have no clue where our fish comes from. Here's why Bell thinks it's imperative that we do.
October 10, 2017 ● 5 min read
Vancouver chef Ned Bell has a metaphor about tuna and golden Labradors he likes to tell when he's explaining seafood sustainability to people.
"We love predators. We love these big, beautiful, sexy fish. And we really love golden labs, right? We love dogs, but we love golden labs. So imagine if you're in Golden Gate Park, and you rounded up all the dogs, and you killed all the dogs except for the golden labs, because you only prize that one dog. You really didn't care much about the other dogs; the little guys, the big guys, the cute guys. That's what we're doing every day in the ocean. Every single day, we round up hundreds and thousands of different species, and we're basically throwing away all the ones that we give no value to as human beings because we want this one species so badly. That's what we call bycatch."
It's a tough image to swallow, but then again, so is overfishing. Thankfully, the ocean has a strong ally in Bell, whose tireless devotion to this cause goes well beyond the empty social media endorsements that have become an activism norm. With his new cookbook, Lure: Sustainable Seafood Recipes From The West Coast, Bell shows just how gorgeous the diversity of the sea is on the plate—along with resources and how-tos when it comes to buying seafood that doesn't leave you racked with guilt. There's no excuse for ignorance in today's information age, and far too late to be apathetic.
"The ocean provides us with the last wild protein on the planet, and that's an extraordinary gift," he says. "We forget that sometimes." — CF
By Ned Bell with Valerie Howes | Photography Kevin Clark
When my middle son, Max, was four, my wife, Kate, and I took him to Maui.
As our plane descended through the clouds, and he caught his first glimpse of a turquoise Pacific, he turned to me and said, “Daddy, what’s your favorite fish in the ocean that we’re allowed to eat?”
We worry all the time as parents about whether we’re getting it all wrong, so moments like that are gold. I never lecture my kids about sustainable seafood. But Max was around me enough to listen and absorb, as I chatted with fishers at the wharf, gave cooking demos, and engaged with diners at my restaurant about menu items such as octopus bacon, sea lettuce, and geoduck. He could not yet read or write, but already he understood the importance of making good choices when we take food from the ocean.
Eating seafood responsibly is not about restricting your options; it’s about opening your mind (and fridge) to a vast array of fish and shellfish that you might not have considered before. In North America, we’re so fixated on the big four—cod, tuna, salmon, and shrimp—that we risk consuming these species to the point of no return.
Fortunately, on the Pacific coast, we’re blessed with an abundance of healthy and well-managed wild species, and the commercial fishers are increasingly moving away from practices that put pressure on marine habitat and creatures—and ultimately their livelihood. The ocean is an interdependent ecosystem where it’s as important to protect the coral on the seabed as it is to minimize the risks to seabirds and other marine creatures of being entrapped with the target catch. As a father of three, my dream is that we all play our part so future generations can enjoy the same fish and shellfish that we do today. By asking where our seafood comes from and how it was caught—then pulling out our wallets only when we’re satisfied with the answers—we have tremendous power to influence the fishing industry.
And that’s what this book is all about. I want to simplify your life by sharing delicious recipes, easy techniques, and straightforward sustainability guidelines around Pacific species. These recipes are nutrient-dense and plant-based with a focus on sustainable seafood. I know change can be daunting—it took me close to 20 years to go a hundred percent ocean-friendly. But I’m hoping that by sharing my journey, I can help get you there faster. With the guidance of my sustainability partners Ocean Wise, SeaChoice, Seafood Watch, and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), I’ve identified a collection of species that are accessible to most home cooks and relatively straightforward to prepare. They also reflect my West Coast roots, culinary adventures, and passion for the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find in these pages sustainable wild Pacific fish and shellfish, as well as responsibly farmed species. which have less impact on the environment, provide a livelihood for fishers from California to Alaska, and help us eat healthy for a better quality of life.
The Ocean Guardians
Let me be the first to admit that when it comes to seafood, keeping track of what’s sustainable can be a challenge. With meat or vegetables, you can be pretty sure that local + organic = an excellent choice. With fish, you need to factor in the species, where it was caught, and how it was raised and harvested—harvesting methods vary in their impact on the environment and untargeted species. And the status of any fish or shellfish may change from one year to the next, as its population rises and falls and as fisheries modify their management strategies and harvesting techniques.
Thankfully, there are NGOs out there doing great work to keep track of what’s what and presenting it to us consumers in simple and bang-up-to-date forms, via their apps and websites. They don’t agree on everything, but the debate is healthy, and I try to walk a middle ground. You can download your favorite app onto your smartphone and have information about hundreds of species at your fingertips as you shop and dine out, and never have to worry again about whether a fish is OK to eat. Here are some of my favorites.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, in California, launched their game-changing sustainable seafood program, Seafood Watch, in 1999. Their guides and apps indicate which seafood items are “Best Choices” or “Good Alternatives” and which to “Avoid.”
The Canadian cousin of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, SeaChoice produces easy-to-digest sustainable seafood guides and an online database, which are updated constantly to reflect new research. It uses a traffic-light system to identify what’s sustainable: green means Best Choice; yellow means Some Concerns; and red means Avoid. What could be simpler?
Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program was devised to make dining out easier and encourage chefs to put more sustainable choices on menus. Participating restaurants and fishmongers put the Ocean Wise symbol beside approved fish and shellfish items. The Ocean Wise app is useful for grocery shopping too: it presents the basic facts around sustainability species by species.
Marine Stewardship Council (msc)
A global nonprofit organization, msc certifies and “ecolabels” wild fish and shellfish to promote sustainability and improve traceability through the entire chain of custody. Look for the blue msc label at your grocery store or fishmonger.