Sustainable sushi (slowly) makes its way to the Lower Mainland

Good crustacean information is hard to find, but we've got help...

Credit: Ocean Wise

Alright, so you only buy wild, sustainably harvested, mercury-free fish that jumps straight into your kitchen window from the creek behind your solar-powered cabin, but what about the six plates of all-you-can-eat sushi you pound back every Friday night?

Ocean Wise, a Vancouver Aquarium initiative, has been giving its blessing and its logo since 2005 to establishments that serve up sustainably harvested seafood, but this has mainly applied to fish dishes.


Granville online’s sushi guide

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Until recently, those looking for sustainable sushi were out of luck—that is, until Zen Japanese Restaurant in West Vancouver became the first restaurant in the Lower Mainland to partner with the program.

According to Ocean Wise program manager Mike McDermid, “one of the top questions that we always get from consumers is, ‘Why aren’t there more sushi places on board?’” However, since the program doesn’t actively solicit restaurants, “all we can recommend to consumers is to let [restaurants] know” and to demand sustainable menu items.

One tool for increasing this awareness is the SeaChoice Sustainable Sushi Guide—a portable, pocket-sized brochure that rates the sustainability of sushi-related fish based on factors like population, region and harvest management—the latest edition of which was released at Zen’s Ocean Wise menu launch in April.


Frutti di Mare

Five local sustainable seafood options for BC, as recommended by Ocean Wise program manager Mike McDermid:

• Diver-caught sea urchins (Uni)

• Sable fish (Gindara)

• Fresh sardine (Iwashi)

• Fresh mackerel (Saba)

• Spot prawn (Ameabi)

Pesce male

Five fish to avoid, according to the Sea Choice wallet guide:

• Farmed salmon (Sake)

• Wild Russian crab (Kani)

• Wild bluefin & yellowfin tuna (Toro, Maguro)

• Wild red snapper (Tai)

• Wild octopus (Tako)

The wallet-sized guide gives a “green” or “best choice” rating for items such as farmed Arctic char and wild Canadian Atlantic lobster, while “yellow” options such as wild B.C. salmon are cause for “some concerns,” and “red” varieties such as farmed salmon are to be avoided.

According to McDermid, the Sea Choice card offers “some good guidelines and gives [consumers] the basis to ask the right questions when [ordering] seafood.”

However, he cautions that “you can’t possibly put all the information on something small enough to fit in someone’s wallet,” and that “because seafood information changes very quickly, you have to be very [general] … because some people might hold on to that card for two years or more.”

While arming yourself with crustacean information is important, the reliability of deep-sea data is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. As McDermid points out, “even [if] the most diligent person using those cards goes into the restaurant … and asks all the right questions, 99 percent of the time the server’s not going to know the answer. And a lot of the time the seafood distribution company doesn’t know the answer.”

This lack of awareness, he says, is partly due to the pan-Pacific language barrier but has more to do with a dearth of demand for responsibly harvested products—demand that ultimately has to come from consumers.

In fact, awareness of seafood sustainability is increasing in the Lower Mainland, and McDermid is confident that demand for sustainable sushi in particular will grow very quickly, adding that Guu with Garlic on Robson will be the next sushi restaurant to introduce an Ocean Wise menu.


What’s your favourite ocean-friendly sushi joint? Leave us a line in the comment thread below.