We are all swimming in a sea of choices. Choices which inevitably affect our ability to be successful and sustainable — socially, economically and environmentally — are made on a daily basis by every one of us.
A vital organ, our stomach, provides us with access to energy, enjoyment, excitement and sustenance… and the opportunity to make and eat our informed choices. While out there trolling for sustainability, it may be wise to go fishing for some smart choices in the seafood we select at the market or restaurant. We’ve all heard terrible tales totalling tonnes of dolphins killed in tuna seines. The World Conservation Union estimates that as many as 38-70 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. Fishermen just hack off the fins and leave the rest of the shark to die. Recall the Chilean Sea Bass debacle over the past few years, where that fish became so popular it was harvested almost out of existence.
Situated near the wild Pacific Coast, Whistler has access to an abundant supply of relatively local, fresh seafood choices which do not negatively impact global oceans and seas. Having to make these choices in an uninformed manner can be challenging, difficult or impossible. To meet this need for credible information, the Vancouver Aquarium created the Ocean Wise program to help consumers understand the need for sustainable seafood and empower them to make informed choices. Launched in January 2005 at Vancouver’s C Restaurant, the voluntary, cost-free program now has 80 members stretching from Vancouver Island to the Okanagan.
Here in Whistler, Araxi Restaurant, The Fairmont Chateau Whistler, The Mountain Club and the Crabshack have all joined Ocean Wise in offering certified fish friendly choices to their customers.
“We’re very lucky geographically in that we have access to such good seafood and a very informed group of customers,” says James Walt, executive chef at Araxi. “The menus really write themselves when you have a good variety of choice and are not scrambling for exotic, unsustainable products. Sustainability is a pretty serious issue when it comes to oceans and seafood.”
Walt says being certified Ocean Wise has helped him inject sustainability criteria into the upstream supply chain, telling seafood suppliers not to offer him deals on Chilean Sea Bass or Swordfish.
“As chefs, we are the middle of the chain, we can positively influence and educate our customers as well as the suppliers regarding well thought out, sustainable choices,” Walt says.
Ocean Wise allows diners to confidently identify and choose restaurants that provide environmentally responsible seafood menu items, and provides restaurants with the information and support to continuously improve menus from an environmental sustainability perspective. According to Mike McDermid, Ocean Wise Coordinator, the uptake on the program has been very good as restaurateurs, chefs and the dining public in B.C. are keenly aware of the need to preserve marine resources. According to Ocean Wise, an estimated 90 per cent of all large, predatory fish are already gone from the world's oceans. The only solution is to turn back from the brink, and consume seafood in a sustainable manner.
“As the market grows for sustainable seafood, the positive economic effect trickles down to the farmers and fishers and gives them an option to conduct their operation in a more sustainable manner by creating this environmentally friendly market,” McDermid says. As well, restaurants offering Ocean Wise are seeing items sporting the Ocean Wise logo outsell many of the other very popular terrestrial meat items, such as beef.
At the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Executive Chef Vincent Stufano says offering Ocean Wise seafood at their restaurants has garnered only positive responses.
“If there is a better way of doing things that is good for our customers, the economy and the environment, I myself will always make that choice,” Stufano says. “If we get a better product to me it just makes sense… it makes our guests, our staff and myself feel better about our choices.”
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Sustainable seafood is defined as:
• A species that is abundant and resilient to fishing pressures;
• A species that is well managed with a comprehensive management plan based on current research;
• A species that is harvested in a method that ensures limited bycatch on non-target and endangered species;
• A species that's method of catch ensures there is limited habitat loss associated with the harvesting method. Source: Vancouver Aquarium, Ocean Wise.