20 All-Star Chefs Unite for Sustainable Fishing, the ‘Perfect Protein’

sustainable fish

The world’s oceans are fully capable of feeding one billion million people every day. So why is the news media constantly telling us about the importance of sustainable fishing and the dangers posed by overfishing?

Because we’re still not fishing properly — and the possible ramifications as the human population grows and the marine population dwindles are bleak.

But strides are being made — and they don’t take an enormous amount of effort, either. Educating ourselves on which fish are sustainable and voting with our forks three times a day can reverse the effects of overfishing drastically. The main problem is one of education: many people don’t know which fish are sustainable or even how to prepare fish that are less familiar than salmon or tuna.

Which is where Oceana comes in.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation, with a goal of raising awareness of the problems facing our oceans today and how to solve them. This unique organization has called in the troops — 20 of the world’s star chefs — to highlight the proper way to prepare and enjoy the perfect protein.

Awareness of Sustainability: It Matters to Understand

In our day and age, it’s fairly easy to check a sustainable fishing website and see what fish you should and shouldn’t purchase at any given time — and while that’s a good start, education is a key to perfecting sustainable fishing. Should you ever find yourself at a fish market filled with unfamiliar, unlabeled fish, would you know which ones to pick?

Rule of thumb number one is to zone in on “forage” fish — species like anchovies, sardines, mackerel and herring — which play a crucial role in food webs. These fish are the main prey of larger fish, while feeding on creatures with very low trophic levels, or positions on the food chain — in this case, plankton.

Unfortunately, particularly in the U.S., these fish can be difficult to find, primarily because the demand isn’t all that high, at least not yet. While these fish are indeed targeted by major fisheries, they are rarely seen on menus, as they are used to make fish meal and fish oil to feed farmed fish instead — so the farmed salmon are getting all the nutrients of wild anchovies.

“Small fish like anchovies are generally the best fish for you,” says Patricia Majluf, Oceana’s Vice President. “They have very high levels of nutrients like omegas, vitamin A, zinc and calcium and are low in toxins like mercury present in other longer lived, larger fish.”

Using Star Power to Bring these Fish to the Surface

oceana chefs

Oceana’s main goal is not necessarily a gastronomic one, but an environmental one. The culinary use of fish is, however, the easiest one to modify. Because most of the world’s small fish come from the national waters of just 30 countries, if we change the way that these 30 countries fish, we can change the future of fishing, and that’s where Oceana’s recent World Ocean Day event comes into play.

grant achatz fish dish

Twenty all-star chefs from all over the world including Grant Achatz, Ferran Adrià, Brett Graham, Daniel Humm, and Ashley Palmer-Watts have been enlisted by Oceana to take up the cause and teach people how to prepare small, oft-overlooked fish. Andy Sharpless, Oceana’s CEO and author of “The Perfect Protein” says: “The Chefs’ commitment to Oceana to help get people to view small fish as delicious is going to help us save the oceans and feed the world.”

alex atala fish dish

Not only did these chefs meet in March to cook a variety of recipes featuring these small fish in one of the capitals of cuisine and seafood, San Sebastian, but they have also pledged to serve lower trophic-level fish species on their restaurant menus on World Oceans Day, June 8th.

enrique olver fish dish

“We are not using so much wonderful food,” said Gaston Acurio, who signed the pledge and has already been leading a campaign to encourage his fellow Peruvian chefs to serve anchovies. “I am thrilled to have my good friends signing on in the effort to wake others up to the joy of eating these tasty and nutritious little fish.”

‘The Perfect Protein’: The Film

The historic event in San Sebastian was also the site of the premiere screening of the short film documentary, “The Perfect Protein,” a film depicting detailed ways in which this campaign will allow the ocean to continue to provide food for the world’s growing population.

The film was created based upon the book by Andy Sharpless and highlights important facts and figures, including astounding information about trawling, sustainable fishing methods, ways to prepare forage fish, and even rules of thumb for choosing sustainable seafood — all of which encourages people to think about keeping fish local and sustainable. Interviews with major players in the world of fishing and gastronomy feature seek to educate diners and culinary professionals, strengthening the call for change.

You can view the film on Oceana’s website and vote with your fork starting today!

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All images care of Oceana

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco