Artisanal, Sustainable Sushi: Omakase 2.0


It can be hard to know where to stand these days when it comes to fish and seafood. You can keep an eye on sustainability information and even download apps to tell you which seafoods are okay to eat in your region, but isn’t it so much easier to know that there are some places you can just trust to have only the best sustainable seafood? That’s what several fish professionals have been saying to themselves — and why sustainable sushi is on the rise.

We interviewed two professionals for their opinions on the rise in sustainable sushi providers and the future of sustainable sushi.

Martin Reed, the founder of I Love Blue Sea, the first totally sustainable online fish retailer, has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Two Fish, a project that was successfully funded last November. The project works closely with sustainable sources to deliver fresh, sushi-quality tuna to your door. He also works with Project Open Hand to get fish to people living in food deserts. And if you’d rather dine out, Hajime Sato of Mashiko Restaurant in Seattle has been making and serving sustainable sushi for five years, with a unique menu and a set of rules to rival Kazunori Nozawa.

Why Choose Sustainable Seafood?

Choosing to eat sustainable seafood is one thing; choosing to sell it is another. Hajime says that he decided to make the switch five years ago. “The more I learned about what’s been going on with fisheries and how they affect the ocean, I realized I was using certain seafoods that we should not be using. I decided to talk to several people who are experts and to change some menu items.”

And Hajime knows where his priorities lie. “We tried to focus on local seafood, but if there are good fishery practices out there that are not local, I might use them,” he says. “On the other hand, even though it is local, if it is a bad fishing practice, we won’t use it.”

As for Martin, he’s been working in sustainable seafood for some time now. Whether for his first initiative or his most recent one, he has one goal: “To save the oceans and ensure there are plenty of fish in the sea for years to come!”

The Issues with Choosing to Sell Sustainable

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, right? Which is why we have to give props to these two seafood sellers for their bold move.

“The popular items like yellowtail, bluefin tuna, eel, and farm-raised salmon had to go,” Hajime says of the decision. “So many people, like myself, thought that would be devastating because we regulate so many menu items that are popular.”

Martin could potentially face the same issue in choosing to sell only one sort of fish — tuna — at least to start. “We would love to do this with other fish,” he says. “We’re starting with tuna because it’s the right season now and it’s a fishery that has lots of issues and this is a problem because it’s so popular.”

But luckily, due to resourceful entrepreneurship, both men have found success — all you have to do is think a bit outside the box.

Creative Seafood

We’re all used to the classic offerings on sushi menus. Hajime knew that he would have to change things up if he was going to turn his sushi bar into an entirely sustainable locale.

“We discovered that there are so many alternatives that are not commonly used at American sushi bars that can be used for our menu,” he says, an ideal that is evident with a glance at the sushi bar’s frequently changing menu, which features pike mackerel, black cod and namagi.

“I don’t like to use ‘substitutions’ for what we used to have. I like for everybody to have an open mind and to try new experiences. Maybe you haven’t seen those fish at the sushi bar before, but maybe you can try it.”

This open-mindedness is already primed amongst conscious eaters five years later; Martin is launching his project into warm waters. He has capitalized on similar structures of sustainable, conscious businesses to ensure that his clients understand what they’re getting into when they purchase his product.

“I see TwoFish as a sort of TOMS Shoes for fish,” he says, citing the shoe retailer who donates a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair bought. “We can help everyone just by mindfully purchasing something that we already buy.”

In fact, it’s because of this concept that he decided to give TwoFish its name.

“It’s sort of a buy one, give one model. Also, I love the biblical story of two fish feeding five thousand people. We believe that plenty of fish are already being caught and we just need to be more wise in how they are used.”

The Future of Sustainable Sushi

There are lots of places that these sorts of initiatives can go from here. Martin, for one, after recently acquiring the sum he needed to launch the project, is still ironing out the little details. “We’re still figuring out exactly where the tuna will be coming from,” he says, “But it will essentially come from the boat to our shared warehouse on Pier 45 in San Francisco. It will be processed here and then shipped directly to people’s homes.”

Other sushi bars are taking different measures to stay both sustainable and modern. Harney Sushi of San Diego uses edible QR codes printed on rice paper to allow diners to see exactly where their fish is coming from. A sustainable seafood iPhone app even allows you to plug in your seafood of choice and see if it’s sustainable or not. By removing the veil of ignorance about what our food is and how it’s getting on our plates, these seafood professionals are only making it easier to eat locally and sustainably.

And if you can’t make it to Hajime’s Seattle sushi bar, or if you’re too eager to wait for TwoFish to start selling even more kinds of sashimi, take advice from both Hajime and Martin, and do your homework before you buy.

“Buy local and seasonal,” Martin says. “Avoid farmed salmon and eat low on the food chain – sardines, anchovies, shellfish are all great for you and the oceans.”

Check your local sustainability resources, and work with fishmongers you trust. The more we demand visibility and sustainability with our seafood, the more large scale fishery corporations will have to answer for.

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Image: BlueWaikiki

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