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How to Make Your Dinner Order More Sustainable

Katherine Miller

July 10, 2017

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With more than two-thirds of all seafood consumed in the U.S. today eaten in restaurants, we called on our senior director of food policy advocacy, Katherine Miller, to put together some tips on adding more sustainable seafood to your dinner bill. Below, she shares a few of her favorite tips for diversifying your seafood experience when dining out.

Try New Things

Since you're out at a restaurant, trust that chefs will deliver something delicious. Don't just lean on the traditional choices of tuna, salmon, or shrimp. If you enjoy salmon, you might try arctic char or mackerel. Like the meatiness of tuna? Try a U.S.-caught swordfish.

If you’re curious about more options, check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s list of “12 Fish You've Probably Never Heard Of.” They get bonus points for adding in "kitchen notes" that give suggestions on how to prepare species such as snapper, grouper, and lingcod in your home kitchen.

It's Not Just Wild Anymore

Studies show that consumers prefer "wild" seafood, especially millennials. While “wild” is a great thing to look for, it doesn't always mean the seafood was caught locally or even that it is fresh. Wild-caught fish is seasonal, just like produce. If you see wild-caught salmon on a menu in January, it’s likely that fish was actually frozen before it was served.

As an alternative, look for the right type of farmed fish, such as barramundi from Vietnam, or U.S.-farmed catfish, both considered Best Choice by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Buy American

When choosing seafood in a restaurant, it’s hard to go wrong by buying American. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, up to 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. It may surprise you to learn that most of this seafood is caught by American fishermen, sent offshore to be processed, and then finally reimported. So by supporting (and encouraging) more restaurants to source domestically (including lake, gulf, and river fishermen), you're not only supporting American businesses—you're also helping to cut greenhouse gases caused by transportation.

Support Restaurants Doing the Right Thing

Probably the most iconic tool to help consumers make better choices is Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch ratings. Their free app includes information about thousands of species and, based on scientific data, categorizes seafood by Best Choice, Good Alternative, and Avoid. Monterey Bay, Marine Stewardship Council, and the James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch program all work directly with restaurants (including fast food and fast casual chains) to help them make diverse, sustainable seafood choices.

We are excited to have more and more suppliers, restaurants, and customers looking for more sustainable seafood options. It is important for our health, and the health of our oceans, to enjoy a broader set of delicious fish and seafood.

Learn more about Smart Catch, JBF’s sustainable seafood program. 

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Katherine Miller is senior director of food policy advocacy at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter.