The science of sustainable seafood, explained

Support sustainable fisheries while social distancing

Social distancing due to COVID-19 has devastated restaurants. Most have been forced to close or are only open for takeout or delivery. The impacts of their closures have similarly devastated tangential businesses like the fishing industry—over half of all seafood is eaten at restaurants, a much higher proportion than any other major foodstuff.

The reason is mostly because many people are apprehensive about cooking fish at home. Though we usually stick to science-based myth busting, now feels like the right time to change perceptions about preparing seafood at home to encourage people to buy seafood right now and support struggling fishermen and women.

Frozen fish vs. fresh

Many of the nation’s fish counters have closed down—for good reason. The fish counter is supposed to be a place where you buy a fresh piece of fish to prepare that day. However, we all need to limit the amount of times we go into public spaces, like a grocery store, so people should be stocking up for a week’s worth of food or more—thinking only about tonight’s dinner is a privilege we can longer afford.

Thankfully, there are plenty of frozen seafood options that will last for months. A common seafood myth is that frozen fish is inherently lower quality than fresh fish from the fish counter. This is simply not true. The highest quality fish are flash, or quickly frozen shortly after being caught. Once a fish dies, the quality of the meat begins to decline. Flash freezing preserves the fish’s flavor and quality. In fact, most of the fish at the fish counter has been frozen and is on display thawed, to be eaten that day or the next.

If you can, buy directly from fishermen and women

Fishing is food production and has been declared an essential business in many states, like California. Fishermen and women continue to go out to provide food and make a living. If you live by the coast, support your local community and buy directly from them.

Cooking fish is easier than ever

Many people are intimidated to cook seafood at home. Don’t be—cooking is easier than ever thanks to the internet and Youtube. There are so many cooking blogs and Youtube channels meant to walk you through recipes. The best recipe I have ever found online is this halibut enchilada recipe—halibut can be substituted by any firm whitefish (like pollock or cod) and the dish is very easy to make. This Youtube video by journalist Adam Ragusea is a great resource for cooking frozen salmon filets.

Next time you go to the grocery store, buy some sustainable seafood and help support their struggling workforce.

Bonus: Dr. Ray Hilborn shares his go-to recipe for cooking salmon

  • Take a piece of salmon, 8-10 ounces is plenty for 2 people.
  • Thaw it, if frozen, 30 minutes in a plastic bag in cold water will do the trick.
  • Assuming it is in plastic take it out, rinse in cold water and dry both sides.
  • Find a cast iron frying pan just big enough for the piece. Melt about 1/4 inch of butter in the pan and make the pan medium hot.
  • Drop the fish in skin-side down, pour a tablespoon of maple syrup over it and then sprinkle with Italian herb seasoning. The butter should be more or less boiling. Cover with a lid. 
  • 5 minutes on the first side, flip over and roughly 5 minutes on the 2nd but check, cooking time will depend on heat and thickness of salmon. 
  • When done plate and cover liberally with lemon juice.

Bonus 2: Barton Seaver dispels the myths of frozen seafood

Max Mossler

Max Mossler

Max studied environmental perception & policy in grad school. He thinks a lot about how other people think about the planet. He is the managing editor at Sustainable Fisheries UW.

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