Understanding What ‘Sustainable Seafood’ Really Looks Like

In Uproxx Reports: Dock to Dish (Part 1), we looked at the high costs of sourcing fish from the other side of the planet. Not the cost at the register — the fish are often less expensive — but the environmental costs and human costs that might go unseen. The fact is, when you source fish from other countries, it’s harder to know what you’re getting and understand the standards of the fishery.

What’s the worst that could happen? Well, entire fish populations can be depleted (as we’ve seen with bluefin tuna). Or fishermen might be paid at below a living wage. Those fishermen might also be children. The boat might be reckless in their netting practices — accidentally capturing and killing endangered mammals. These are big issues and now is the time to consider them. As Michael Cimarusti, chef and co-owner of the Michelin-starred Providence LA, says in this week’s episode, “It [fish] is the last great wild food that we have as a fairly regular part of our diets.”

That’s pretty exciting, when you stop to consider it. Our fruits and vegetables are farmed. Even our sustainably raised livestock and poultry are born in captivity. We get giddy anytime a chef snips a little basil from an on-site garden. Then you have fish, which is roaming the world free until being snatched up out of the water and eaten, just like how it’s been since…forever. Which puts even more pressure on consumers and fisherman alike to ensure sustainability for the future.

“The demand for cheap seafood has caused the wrong motivations to be set in place in the industry and has allowed for a lot of cut corners,” says Sarah Rathbone, co-founder of Dock to Dish LA. “Because most people’s education on this subject is low, it allows for the proliferation of unsustainable practices.”

As with many conversations around food system sustainability, the right approach is complicated. Sadly, there’s no magic bullet. Rathbone’s work — promoting small fishermen and raising public awareness about lesser known fish — is a big part of that. We’ll also need smart farming practices and intelligent decision making on the part of the diner (or home cook).

In this week’s episode of Uproxx Reports: Dock to Dish (Part 2) we follow Rathbone as she talks to chefs about the product she delivers to their restaurants — exploring the delicate interplay and complicated future of how we catch and consume fish.