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by Leigh Belanger, Chefs Collaborative

For everyone trying to purchase, prepare, and eat good clean and fair food, navigating the ocean waters can be a tricky proposition. Wild fish populations are crashing, farmed fish is all kinds of controversial—and all the while, demand for seafood is on the rise.

At Chefs Collaborative, the national network of chefs and culinary professional working on sustainable food issues, we think about seafood all the time. How can chefs work with other members of the seafood industry and the conservation community to push for more sustainability when it comes to seafood?

At Changemakers Day during Slow Food Nation, Chefs Collaborative explored these questions. Our panel, Rising Tides, Sinking Catch, looked at ways that fishermen, purveyors, and chefs—all groups with a commercial stake in the oceans—can work together to support responsible fishing practices and build markets for sustainable seafood.

Panelists Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild, Paul Johnson of Monterey Fish, and Joe McGarry of the Bon Appetit Management Company each shared with the roomful of chefs, sustainable seafood advocates, fishermen and women, and curious consumers the ways their respective businesses approach responsible practices.

The highlights? Starks is building a market for pink salmon, a lesser-known, under-utilized salmon species that, if marketed and cared for properly, he hopes will take pressure off of prized species like sockeye and coho—and give Starks’ small-scale reef-net fishing cooperative an income boost at the same time.

Johnson, seafood purveyor to top Bay Area restaurants, talked about the industrialization of the fishing industry as the number-one threat to maintaining sustainable seafood populations and healthy marine ecology. Johnson urged the crowd to support small-scale fishermen using responsible practices.

McGarry, an executive chef for the Bon Appetit Management Company, talked about how seafood fits in to the company’s Low Carbon Diet. By focusing on lower-down-the-food-chain species like mussels, clams, and sardines—and taking shrimp off the menu altogether—McGarry and BAMCO are demonstrating how to put sustainable ideals into everyday practice.

Each panelist had a unique perspective, but their presentations had a couple of ideas in common. The work of promoting and supporting sustainable practices in the fishing and seafood industries is never done. And it’s based on two main things—whether you’re a chef, fisherman, purveyor, or consumer: education and relationships. In the pursuit of good, clean, and fair food, we need to be aware of the issues—and we need each other.