I like to think of myself as a conscientious chowhound, especially when it comes to things like endangered fish. But I take shortcuts: Since I know that many chefs in higher-end restaurants have sustainability issues in mind when selecting their ingredients, I tend not to whip out my pocket seafood guide at eateries where farmers’ names and the words heritage and grass-fed pepper the menu; I often trust the chefs to make the soundest possible seafood choices for me. And that’s just utter folly, as writer Charles Clover explains in an engaging interview with Salon.
In his book The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat, Clover knocks some critically acclaimed NYC restaurants (including Nobu and BLT Fish) for choosing overfished species, calling BLT Fish’s new menu “utterly disgraceful.”
In terms of endangered fish, there were more on that menu than I’ve seen on a lot. And the restaurant’s gotten worse since I wrote about them in the book. They’ve got Icelandic halibut, which is a quite amazing fish, and about as sustainable a halibut as you could get in terms of the way it’s caught, but it is still an endangered species in the Atlantic. New York chefs are a disgrace. They served caviar for a decade longer than they should have. They serve bluefin tuna because they’ve kidded themselves that it’s a sustainable catch, which it isn’t. They serve other things that are overfished, like red snapper.
Wow. I must say, I’ve run into this problem before when developing chefs’ fish recipes for magazine stories—and these chefs were whipping up their farmers’ market–inspired fare in the South and New England, not New York. So perhaps the problem is even more widespread than Clover notes here.
Clover also points out in the book that McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich is made using fish from two Marine Stewardship Council–certified fisheries. As Samuel Fromartz, who conducted the Salon interview, puts it, “McDonald’s fish sandwich is more sustainable than Nobu’s tuna sashimi.” But Clover says that didn’t surprise him:
McDonald’s is sustainable because it is a big company and needs continuity of supply, but isn’t that arguably a definition of sustainability?
In his intro, Fromartz mentions that Clover’s book was met with “a deafening lack of attention” when it was published in the U.S. last year. The market may be somewhat saturated with books on fish, and many of us have heard the disturbing stats about declining fish populations so many times that they’re not necessarily registering anymore. But some of Clover’s arguments definitely hit home for me—and made me vow not to blindly trust whatever ecominded chefs put on the menu.
I don’t think I’ll be choking down a Filet-O-Fish anytime soon, though.