Swordfish

Swordfish has been on the eco-worst list of seafood choices for as long as I can remember. Between high mercury levels and ocean-savaging fishing practices, this protein has been banned from my shopping list for 20 years.

In January 2007, I bashed swordfish in Making Safe Fish Choices and substituted Pacific halibut in a featured recipe for Kabobs with California Dried Plums and Bay Leaves.

But the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program now rates Hawaiian, Canadian and some U.S. swordfish as “best choices,” while discouraging the purchase of imported and certain U.S. swordfish. (Click here for the fishy details.)

And just this month, Whole Foods Market introduced sustainable swordfish that has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). If you’re interested, shop quickly: The fish will be available only through August and while supplies last.

Whole Foods has been working with an “incredibly special fishery” in Nova Scotia, says Dan Rand, one of the natural/organic food chain’s port buyers. He and his colleagues hand-select and grade swordfish as it arrives on dock, and they choose fish that meets specific criteria: white meat, firm texture and bright blood lines. These requirements help ensure that the cooked fish has a mildly sweet flavor, optimum moistness and a meaty texture.

“To get this many fishermen on board 100% with the MSC fishery sustainability program is no easy task, and it is a testament to their commitment to the future of the fishery and the fish,” Rand says.

Caught one at a time by harpoon, a swordfish is targeted only when it’s mature. Whole Foods is working with the Canadian government to avoid overfishing, which means swordfish are caught over three 5-day intervals.

“As [Whole Foods] customers better understand the importance of certified sustainable seafood products and the rigor of the MSC’s independent, internationally recognized standard, the more consumers can play a role by their choices in realizing the vision of oceans teeming with life for this and future generations,” says Kerry Coughlin, MSC’s Americas Region director.