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This summer, consider sustainable seafood

Ocean with boats

A sustainable shrimp farm in the desert, using water from a saline aquafer.

Arizona Desert Shrimp

Summer makes me nostalgic for seafood. As a kid, our annual family vacation to Croatia was my favorite time of the year. I spent my days snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean, strolling through quaint markets and eating lots of seafood. 

But those days are long gone. Seafood hasn’t been part of my diet after learning about the detrimental effects of overfishing on our oceans, appalling human rights violations on vessels and fish sentience

I’m well aware of many sustainable fishing initiatives and their economic importance. Yet as a consumer, I’ve found it too daunting to evaluate whether the seafood at my restaurants or supermarkets are truly sustainable and ethical. 

While diving into seafood issues in preparation for VERGE Food, however, I’ve come across a few better approaches I’d consider supporting. Hopefully, they help bring a better catch to your plate this summer.

The smaller, the better

In 2019, a study from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future had a surprising finding. Completely eliminating meat, fish and dairy from our plates isn’t the most sustainable way to eat. Instead, complementing a plant-based diet with modest amounts of low-food chain animals such as forage fish, bivalves (mussels, oysters, clams and scallops) and insects has the lowest carbon, land and water footprint. It also adds flexibility and nutritious benefits. 

Patagonia Provisions stocks its online shop with sustainably sourced anchovies, mackerels and mussels. They come in handy cans to avoid food waste — a particular problem with quickly spoiling seafood — and are easily recycled.

Fresh oysters are another great option. They are truly nature-positive, just like other clams and mussels. Oysters filter up to 100 gallons of water a day, absorb nitrogen, control algal blooms, provide shelter for small fish, protect coastlines and much more. Follow these five tips for buying the best ones. 

Plant-based seafood is catching up 

Compared to alternative meat and dairy markets, plant-based seafood remains a small segment. But there’s an increasing number of startups in this space who make products that taste great, are healthy and come with a much smaller environmental footprint than the traditional products they’re emulating. 

A desert in Arizona is producing sustainable shrimp.

Good Catch offers a whopping variety: Three tuna flavors, fish cakes, fish burgers, crab cakes and three breaded varieties. You can order them online or try it at one of their restaurant partners. Sophie’s Kitchen is another one-stop-shop for your seafood cravings, including favorites such as shrimp and smoked salmon. Their tuna is available on Amazon and you can find their other products in many supermarkets

I’m also excited about Wildtype. They’re constructing the world’s first cultivated seafood pilot plant in San Francisco which soon will allow them to bring their salmon to sushi restaurants. 

Kelp is the new kale

Seaweed has been all the hype this year — for good reason. It’s a splendid addition to diversified seafood platters. The plants boost ocean health, have the potential to sequester incredible amounts of carbon and provide low barriers to entry for new ocean farmers. 

How do you make it part of your diet? Nori — the algae holding sushi together — is the most well-known and widely available seaweed product. But it can be used for a lot more than sushi, such as Japanese miso soup or wrapped around tofu and deep-fried for a dish similar to fried fish. Added to a smoothie, seaweed can give you a calcium and iron boost. 

If you’re not much of a home cook, the New York-based startup AKUA might have a good solution for you. Bon Appetit’s Amanda Shapiro says their kelp burger is all she wants to eat this summer "even if it weren’t made of a super-cool, planet-saving seaweed." Get some in their online shop for your next barbeque. 

Climate-friendly shrimp grows in the desert 

Shrimp is the most consumed seafood in the U.S. It’s also the most carbon-intensive, emitting over four times as many greenhouse gases per serving as farmed salmon, poultry or cheese. Most shrimp is imported from tropical countries such as Thailand, where mangrove forests are cut down to make space for shrimp ponds, releasing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. 

Shrimp in bucket

Arizona Desert Shrimp is working to decarbonize America's favorite seafood.

Arizona Desert Shrimp

But Victoria and Maurice Kemp are proving that it doesn’t have to be this way. They run a shrimp farm at the cutting edge of sustainability in Arizona. Their ponds sit on top of an aquifer too saline for human consumption but just right for shrimp. Once the shrimp are harvested, the Kemps’ next-door farmer irrigates his alfalfa and cotton crops with the nutrient-rich water, reducing his fertilizer need before it returns to the aquifer. No deforestation is involved either, making their product a lot greener. Kemp needs between one and 1.2 pounds of feed to produce one pound of shrimp, a feed to food ratio eight times lower than beef.  

The Kemps told me they also hold a patent on a vertical shrimp farming technique that would bring sustainable production closer to urban centers and are looking for the right investor to scale their business. Even now, they’ll ship their Arizona Desert Shrimp right to your door. 

These are just a few ways to make your fish consumption more diverse and sustainable. If you choose other options, make sure to check if the products align with Seafood Watch’s recommendations or look out for MSC certification

What are your sustainable seafood favorites? Send me your tips! I’m at [email protected]

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