Our preference is to eat sustainable fish. Once we eat a fish species to extinction, it's gone forever.
To figure out what fish are sustainable, we use information provided by Shedd or Monterey Bay Aquariums. This information is distributed via pocket guides and iPhone apps (Monterey Bay has an excellent app: Seafood Watch. It's free).
Monterey Bay's guide indicates which fish are fish are unsustainable and thus ones we should avoid. The "Avoid" category includes such fish as Red Snapper and Chilean Sea Bass.
During a recent visit to Fortune Fish in Bensenville, I found out, alas, that it's not all that easy to determine sustainability from pocket guides or apps.
Mark Palicki of Fortune Fish explained that although Red Snapper, for instance, is listed as "Avoid" on the Monterey Bay site, there are some fisheries that are harvesting Red Snapper in ways that ensure they'll be around for generations to come. So, Palicki explained, "Let's celebrate those fisheries that are doing it right. If we don't buy fish from them, they won't produce the fish." And that will be bad not only for those of us who like Red Snapper (and I'm on record as appreciating Lalo's Huachinango a la Veracruzana) -- but it will also be bad for the species.
And though Monterey Bay also tells us to avoid Chilean Sea Bass, a notoriously popular and thus over-fished species, Fortune Fish carries the same species of fish, but from sources that are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, the gold standard for determining which fisheries use sustainable practices and are thus worthy of our support.
So figuring out whether seafood is ethical to eat is not easy.
But if you're a person who cares about eating sustainable food (and, personally, I think you should be), Stacy Schultz, formerly of the Shedd and currently Seafood Sustainability Coordinator at Fortune Fish, gave me a few simple steps to ensuring the seafood we're served is sustainable:
1. Purchase seafood from a knowledgeable and trusted fish monger/supplier.
2. Ask questions! Where did the seafood originate from? How was the fish caught or raised?
3. Consume a variety of seafood. Most underutilized and by-catch fish tend to be the most sustainable.
4. Use the seafood ratings and certifications as a guide, not as an absolute. There are a lot of fisheries and farms out there working towards sustainability that need to be encouraged and supported.
Even though these very sensible rules will not guarantee that you will always be eating sustainable seafood, they're a start. And the more people who make an effort to eat only sustainable seafood, the more likely it will be that some at-risk species will live beyond this generation.