Sustaining Baltimore as a Seafood City

Mike Cook

There should be gill-flappingly fresh fish on every plate in this city. We should be wading through tureens of local oysters and crabs.

We definitely are not.

While flaky, earth-friendly fish flipper their way through streams just a few miles from us, we gorge on yellow fin tuna and farmed salmon. Most of the city's crab houses import their crabs from the Gulf of Mexico, and our crab cakes our made with lump from Asia. If we really want to call ourselves a seafood town, we need to educate ourselves on sustainable seafood.

It is not an easy task.

Seafood may be considered non-sustainable because it's endangered, but it could also be because it's farmed in conditions that demolish local watersheds or caught in ways that hurt other species. As the Sun pointed out in an article on the subject, Woodberry Kitchen restaurateur Spike Gjerde, who knows more about food than most, brought in an expert to help him navigate the waters. If Gjerde needs help, how's the normal person supposed to know? Stories of dyed salmon and farmed shrimp masquerading as wild are fairly common. The seafood world is a dangerous place to swim.

A good place to dip your toes in is the Seafood Watch website, which will keep you up to date on what's being caught or raised by responsible methods. The good thing about eating only sustainable seafood is that you don't have to stop eating fish, and you don't have to miss out on crabs or oysters either. You just have to change your ordering habits a bit. Rockfish is every bit as tasty as mahi (much more so, in my own opinion), and in this part of the country a much better fish for the ocean. Plus, while your mahi will always be frozen, your rockfish may actually be fresh.

It would help if restaurants did a better job or highlighting local or sustainable seafood and cutting some of the worst offenders off their menus. Red Lobster is not the kind of restaurant I generally point out as impressive, but this fact certainly is: Red Lobster serves only sustainable seafood. Of course, shipping seafood out to Red Lobsters in the Midwest kind of dulls the positive impact of their dedication to sustainable sourcing, but it is a step in the right direction.

One of the worst offenders is the proliferation of sushi-grade tuna on menus everywhere. I love a piece of ahi on a nice salad, but how many of the sports bars and taverns with ahi on their menu really do right by this delicacy?

The blame doesn't rest solely on the restaurants, though. We order that ahi. How many times do we pass up local options because we don't know them? Maryland Seafood.org will give you a good idea of what to look for on menus.

Another bonus of eating locally and sustainably: it's often cheaper. Take croaker, which is common in local waters but rare on menus. It's inexpensive and tasty. Clams, flounder, and catfish are all other species you ought to give a try. Seafood doesn't get better than flounder stuffed with crab meat (just make sure the flounder is line caught and not trawled). A few local chefs have even been experimenting with snakehead fish, the invasive Asian species that's damaging Maryland ecosystems. Imagine how delicious saving your local streams could taste.

Sticking to a diet that's healthy for the planet is no easy task, but with sustainable seafood we have the rare chance to save money and get higher quality, fresher, and tastier meals. That sounds like the right course for a seafood city.


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