Two thirds of all seafood in America is eaten in restaurants, so it stands to reason that any serious effort to change the way we consume the world's resources of shellfish and fin-fish needs to be directed at the folks who decide what goes on restaurant menus: chefs.
Paul Allen, the Seattle mogul who co-founded Microsoft, who owns the Seahawks, and whose real estate company, Vulcan, has developed South Lake Union, has a keen interest in environmental stewardship, specifically sustainable seafood. To that end, Vulcan's philanthropic arm has just launched a program called Smart Catch to encourage restaurants to serve more sustainable seafood.
Paul Greenberg's excellent "Four Fish" drew attention to the problem in 2011: the popularity of salmon, tuna, bass, and cod has put huge pressure on these species. The New Yorker published a piece last week called "The Case for Eating Small Fish," but Smart Catch goes further.
It's not always been clear, from a restaurant menu, where that dish of "seared tuna" comes from, and it's not always a sure thing that the server or even the chef know, either.
It's not a question of large of small, wild or farmed, so much as pinpointing species that can maintain or increase production without jeopardizing the health of the marine ecosystem. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has been in the forefront of this effort for some time with a campaign to raise consumer awareness of endangered species through its SeafoodWatch recommendations (avoid farmed Atlantic salmon and bluefin tuna, for example, in favor of arctic char or Pacific albacore).
Yet it's not always clear, from a restaurant menu, where that dish of "seared tuna" comes from, and it's not always a sure thing that the server or even the chef know, either.
Hence the Smart Catch program, which trains chefs and restaurant staffs and encourages a 90 percent compliance with the latest environmental standards. Decals at the door and symbols on the menu will alert consumers to restaurants and specific dishes that meet the Smart Catch goals.
And hence also the nifty SmartCatch.fish website. (Betcha ya didn't know there even was a dot-fish top-level domain... but Paul Allen knew.)
Allen's group signed up some heavyweight chefs prior to launching. Along with several dozen other high-profile restaurants, both the Tom Douglas and Ethan Stowell restaurant groups have gone through the certification process.
Says Stowell: "We see Smart Catch as a great opportunity to keep diners engaged, simplify their decisions around seafood, and recognize restaurants that are leading the way in supporting environmentally responsible fisheries."
Now Seattle gets to sample the results. Nine chefs will prepare "sustainably delicious" menus using crab, salmon, scallops and pollock over four nights next week (7 to 9 p.m.) at pop-up stands on the north side of the PACCAR Pavilion at the Olympic Sculpture Park (Western Ave & Broad St). The pop-ups are FREE to the public, but you have to have a ticket. Sunday's tickets are available right now on the Smart Catch Events site, and tickets for the following evenings (50 each day) will become available at 9 a.m. on the day before each event. Find more info on Facebook and Twitter at SmartCatchSea.
Here's the schedule:
Sunday, July 12th
Chef Ignacio Reyna of Agua Verde
Chef Tamara Murphy of Terra Plata
Chef Paul Duncan of Ray's Boathouse
Monday, July 13th
Chef Branden Karow of Ethan Stowell Restaurants
Chef Thierry Rautureau of Luc and Loulay
Tuesday, July 14th
Chef Ron Anderson of Tom Douglas Restaurants
Chef Bobby Palmquist of Walrus & Carpenter
Wednesday, July 15th
Chef Craig Hetherington of TASTE
Chef Brendan McGill of Hitchcock