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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

All the Fish in the Sea

by Laurel Kallenbach

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In our May/June issue, I wrote a “Conscious Kitchen” feature about sustainable seafood (including yummy recipes from top eco-chefs!) In the process I got to relive last year’s Cooking for Solutions conference, an annual event sponsored by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its Seafood Watch program.

Lucky me—I got to leave landlocked Colorado for a little pilgrimage to California’s Pacific coast to learn about fishing, seafood, organic agriculture and wine making.

Cooking for Solutions is an extension of the Seafood Watch program, which works to help chefs and retailers—and the general seafood-loving public, like me—make wise seafood choices. An impressive roster of chefs and sustainable agriculture gurus discuss how our eating habits impact the environment and our health.

The news was both good and bad. The mercury content of seafood is a disturbing health problem, although fortunately some fish contain less mercury than others. (Swordfish, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel are especially high in mercury.)

The other big issue that struck me was overfishing and destructive ways of fishing, including dredging, gillnetting and trawling.

On the other hand, the folks at Seafood Watch are optimistic—they believe that if people are vigilant about the types of fish they choose, they can reap the heart-health benefits of eating seafood while still leaving healthy populations of fish in the ocean.

Fun (and education) at the Aquarium 

In addition to all the great information at the Cooking For Solutions event—and superb food cooked by chefs committed to sustainability—was the joy of spending 10 to 12 hours a day in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

I sipped coffee and watched the sea otters cavort while they got their breakfast. I learned the true meaning of “feeding frenzy” while witnessing lunchtime for the tunas and barracudas.

And I swear I formed a personal connection with a giant octopus. Every day I checked in on her (or him?) and was fascinated by suckers and tentacles far more graceful and fluid than ballerinas. (Octopuses can express their emotions by changing the color!)

I got to catch the last act of the blackfooted penguins rescued from the New Orleans aquarium after Hurricane Katrina—it was their final weekend in California before returning to their refurbished home.

During the Cooking for Solutions Gala, I took a timeout from sampling gourmet dishes and organic wines to watch the jellyfish pulse and drift in the current.

Am I waxing too poetic? It’s just that the message behind the environmental and food supply discussions really hit home. Between lectures I could stroll over to the Touching Pools and brush my fingertips over the silky wings of stingrays gliding around the tank.

These incredible ocean ecosystems and marine life forms are so diverse, exquisite and enthralling that it breaks my heart to think of them disappearing. So it’s encouraging that the Aquarium uses every opportunity to teach about ocean conservation.

Every year, 80,000 school children visit and learn about why they shouldn’t eat swordfish (the fishing lines entangle endangered sea turtles) or Atlantic cod (it’s dangerously overfished). The kids take home a handy Seafood Watch Pocket Guide, which lists the best and least sustainable choices of seafood at supermarkets and restaurants. (Download the guide here.)

Registration is now open for 2007’s Cooking For Solutions, May 18 and 19.

P.S. While you’re on the Monterey Bay Aquarium website, check out its live Underwater Kelp Cam, Sea Otter Cam and Penguin Cam.