You’d think, given our gastronomic obsessions with local sourcing, organic produce, happy chickens, and sustainable everything, that it’d be easy to know when and whether to eat fish and shellfish. After all, we live surrounded by oceans and rivers, where salmon and crab and oysters shape the signature identity of Pacific Northwest cuisine. 

But we also face the reality that ocean acidification is compromising our oysters’ ability to make their shells, which prompted one Willapa Bay grower to open a hatchery in Hawaii and inspired former governor Christine Gregoire to create a panel and launch an initiative to tackle acidification in Puget Sound. Uber restaurateur Tom Douglas has joined a movement to prevent the development of Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The site may be rich with copper, but it’s home to what Douglas calls “one of the last great remaining salmon fisheries on earth” and the livelihood of many a Seattle fisherman. Add to that reports of a killer virus discovered in BC salmon farms, depleted tuna stocks around the world, harmful fishing methods that scoop up everything in the oceangoing food chain, and the scandal that convoluted supply chains allow cheap, farm-raised tilapia to be mis-labeled as snapper. It’s enough to put you off your omega-3s. 

So we were heartened, as we ate our way around town and researched sourcing to bring you this issue dedicated to the pleasures of eating seafood in all its varieties, that we found so many chefs and purveyors and advocates who insist on high-quality sustainable fish and shellfish. 

Despite being the home of the historic Ivar’s Acres of Clams, Seattle doesn’t have the kind of classic fish house with lobster bibs and butcher paper–covered tables like Legal Seafoods in Boston or Fog Harbor Fish House in San Francisco. What we do have are myriad restaurants with extraordinary fish dishes on the menu, from high-end destinations to ethnic joints. And more on the way. Eric Donnelly, whose encyclopedic menu of seafood at Toulouse Petit made our list, plans to open a restaurant in Fremont this spring devoted to globally sourced sustainable seafood: RockCreek will feature local crab and mussels as well as underappreciated mackerel and sardines from lower in the food chain. Plus, we were pleasantly surprised to learn how tightly managed native Washington fish like salmon or steelhead are. Even farm-raised fish are getting an ecological makeover. There’s a new salmon operation in these parts, SweetSpring, which has earned a Super Green ranking from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. 

So, if you’re anything like me and have been slightly paralyzed by trying to dine and shop conscientiously, there’s plenty to celebrate—and eat.

 

Published: February 2013

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