Environmentalists tout sustainable fish for the dish.
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Brad Ack, a regional director for MSC, says the “chain of custody” system was set up for the retail environment, but they’ve readapted it for food service. It’s a two-part certification: one for the fisheries and another for the entire supply chain.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Ack believes that this helps raise awareness: “You can’t see what’s going on in the ocean like you can with clear-cut logging. Overfishing and other [ocean] damage hasn’t risen in the minds of consumers like deforestation ... but we’re getting there.
“Bamboo was really gung-ho and excited about the program,” he adds, “and we’re [now] being approached by other restaurants and restaurant chains. Sustainability is becoming an issue for their customers.”
Educating their customers on the various ecolabels they’ve earned – including MSC certification and certification by the Green Restaurant Association – is one of the biggest challenges at Bamboo Sushi, says Mr. Lofgren. Staff members have a 95-page manual and go through extensive training on menu items and sustainability issues.
For customers, education comes through eating.
“We’re big fans of flights,” which offer customers the opportunity to sample variations of the same food, says Lofgren. “During the salmon season, Bamboo will offer five different types of salmon from five different areas. If it’s tuna season, we’ll serve skipjack, yellowfin, another grade of yellowfin, blackfin, and albacore. In the winter, we did five different types of crab. It allows people to understand that these creatures all have a history, and it affects taste.”
Adding on a sushi bar to an existing restaurant has been a popular trend in recent years. Rick Moonen, executive chef of RM Seafood in Las Vegas and a longtime proponent of sustainable fishing, moved his raw seafood bar to another part of the restaurant in 2007 to make room for a sushi bar.
When the Monterey Bay Aquarium launched its sushi wallet card (see sidebar below), bumping fresh-water eel and Australian- and Japanese-farmed hamachi to the red “avoid” column, Mr. Moonen immediately removed them from his menu.
Even though it was the right thing to do, it wasn’t easy, he says. “The hard one for me was breaking my love affair with hamachi. I’ve gotten over many things, but that was tough.”
In search of a replacement, Moonen flew to Hawaii to inspect the operations of Kona Blue Water Farms. After grilling the owners about the sustainability of their fish, Moonen now offers Kona Kampachi on his menu as a replacement for hamachi.
Sheila Bowman, senior outreach manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, says that what’s different about Bamboo, Tataki, and other restaurants with similar philosophies is that the owners are making strong personal commitments to the ocean.
“They approached it as ‘We are going to do a business that’s sustainable’ versus ‘We want to do sushi, and let’s tweak it so it’s less bad for the environment,’ ” says Ms. Bowman.
Other restaurants have made different decisions. In May, a group of Greenpeace protesters made headlines by drawing attention to famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s offering of bluefin tuna at his global chain of 24 Nobu restaurants. Celebrities Elle Macpherson, Sting, and others signed a letter threatening a boycott.
So far, the endangered fish is still served, although the menu now includes an asterisk informing customers the fish is “environmentally challenged” and suggesting that diners ask for an alternative, thus leaving the decision up to the customer.
Online guides to choosing ocean-friendly sushi
Environmental Defense Fund,
Smart Sushi Choices
Blue Ocean Institute,
Monterey Bay Aquarium,