How to be a smart consumer

Posted: September 20, 2007

Find a reliable fishmonger.

Cultivate a relationship with a reputable neighborhood seafood store. If you don't have one, select your grocery store carefully. Look for evidence that the store cares:

Is the fish properly labeled with country of origin and whether it's fresh or farmed? Does the store offer products with the Marine Stewardship Council's logo? Is the staff knowledgeable?

Ask the fishmonger questions.

Three major factors affecting sustainability are: biology (short-lived, quick-maturing fish with vigorous reproductive cycles are highly sustainable); catch methods (hook-and-line and traps are often favored because they have low environmental impact and don't snag many unwanted species); and fishery management (whether good policies are in place for preserving the habitat and the species). Ask your purveyor:

"Where does this fish come from?"

"How was it caught?"

"Who caught this fish?" (If you really want to push it.)

Their answers or willingness to find them will tell you whether to keep shopping there. "These should be as basic as cooking and freshness questions," said Paul Johnson, author of "Fish Forever." "It should just become part of the dialogue."

Know the right answers.

If you like shrimp, should you be buying wild or farmed, imported or American? (Answer: Wild American shrimp are a good choice, because U.S. shrimping boats have gear that helps them avoid turtles.)

Instead of learning the entire seafood universe, thoroughly research your three favorites. On the flip side, try a fish on the "best" to see whether you like it.

Use the available shortcuts.

Carry the Seafood Watch pocket guide and pull it out at the fish counter. Look for the Marine Stewardship Council's blue oval.

Give yourself a break.

"Read the cards, go on Web sites, familiarize yourself with what sustainable means, and with every purchase ask the questions where, when, how, why, who," said chef Barton Seaver, who runs Hook in Washington, D.C. "You may not always make the right choice. But you've started the information trail. And that's the only thing that's going to get us where we need to be. When people start asking why, change begins to happen."

- Associated Press

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