September 26, 2008
By Sharon Noguchi; Mercury News
If you down a plate of maguro for lunch or can't go a week without a dragon roll, the folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium would like to have a word with you.
They're hoping that the next time a toro-loving connoisseur bellies up to the sushi bar, he'll think about not only personal health but also the health of the planet.
The aquarium, along with the Environmental Defense Fund and the Blue Ocean Institute, on Thursday expanded a sustainable seafood guide with an edition devoted to sushi. It's taken into account overfishing, environmental damage and health hazards. And farm- raised seafood is not off the hook, so to speak.
Farm-raised salmon is out because the breeding pens pollute the ocean. Unagi is a no-no because ranchers gather wild baby eels in the ocean and bring them to the farm. Shrimp destroys ecologically precious mangroves, and some types of tuna are on the avoid list because of depletion and mercury content. Instead, environmentalists want people to order bay scallops, smelt roe from Iceland or sea urchin from Canada (but not Maine).
Many of the recommendations are similar to the ones already in the popular sustainable seafood guides, though now listed as how the fish appears on sushi menus. Advocates -- who had distributed 24 million sustainable seafood pocket guides -- hope diners will take notice of the new guides and order accordingly, ultimately changing what seafood restaurants buy.
Environmentalists are deliberately targeting sushi lovers because they're hoping to find a responsive crowd. "We know the demographics of who eats sushi,'' said Sheila Bowman, outreach manager of the aquarium's Seafood Watch program. "We think sushi consumers are going to be a younger, hipper, more urban consumer.''
And after all, at what other type of restaurant might you find Apple roll, Cisco roll and Intel roll? Along with New York, Miami, San Francisco, and, of course, California roll. (Of those, only the California roll doesn't have fish on the "avoid" list.)
But that doesn't mean that sushi addicts will happily give up their hip, urban meals.
"I can't imagine eating sushi without tuna,'' said Matt Swehla of San Jose, as he was walking in Japantown after a meal of poke, a Hawaiian dish of ginger- and sesame-infused chopped raw tuna.
Would knowing the aquarium's worries and guidelines change their eating habits? "I'd like to think that it would, but "... it wouldn't. Tuna is such a standard,'' said his dining companion, Kris Helton of Modesto.
Fueled by a changing demographic, concerns for health and evolving eating habits, sushi has grown enormously in popularity, not only in the Bay Area, but also around the world. It's gotten so popular that sushi restaurants are now worrying about a shortage of nori, the black seaweed wrapping rolls, because of rising demand in Europe, Russia and China, said Kazuyo Matsumoto, owner of three Kazoo restaurants in San Jose and Campbell.
More restaurants have opened to meet Americans' appetite for raw fish, creating exotic multi-fish layers encased in rice.
At Tomo Sushi on University Avenue in Palo Alto, the dragon roll (crab, avocado and eel) and the rainbow roll (assorted fish, crab, avocado) follow only the California roll in popularity, server Fabian Moreno said.
Among Japanese customers, tuna is clearly the most popular sushi item, Matsumoto said. As she perused the list, she said it would be very hard for consumers to distinguish between what's good and bad - - in part because the origin of the seafood may determine whether it's environmentally harmful.
For example, Alaskan wild salmon is a "best choice,'' Washington wild salmon is a "good alternative,'' but Atlantic and farmed salmon is "avoid.'' Tuna and several other fish are flagged because they contain mercury or other contaminants.
Barton Bishoff of San Francisco, who heard about the list Thursday, said he probably would tend to eat the sushi that has the least effect on the environment. "I try not to order sensitive things at restaurants, like veal and Chilean sea bass,'' he said.
"It's almost a shame,'' said Bishoff, who eats sushi at least once a week. "I really love unagi.''
Contact Sharon Noguchi at [email protected] or (408) 271- 3775.""°some recommendations
Full list available Oct. 22 at www.montereybayaquarium.org
Unagi (freshwater eel)
Hirame (Pacific halibut)
Kanikama/Surimi/imitation crab (Alaskan pollock)
Wild mirugai (giant clam, geoduck)
Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium
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