Boulder County is about 1000 miles from the ocean, we are just about equidistant from the Gulf of Mexico to the South and the Pacific Ocean to the West. Yet we have some top-quality seafood here. Yellow Scene set out to learn how this fish makes its way here; we’re pretty sure it didn’t swim. We also wanted to learn about sustainability and how we can ensure that we are eating quality fish, from fishmongers who are making a living while also making sure there will still be fish around for our grandchildren.
To ensure that you are purchasing sustainable seafood it’s a good idea to talk to your fishmonger or server. They should be able to tell you about the strategies they use to make sure they are getting their fish from sustainable sources. Another great source for information is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app or their downloadable seafood guides. These sources are regularly updated based on species to help the consumer stay informed about choices that are overfished, or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.
We went out and talked to some chefs, restaurateurs, and fishmongers and were pleased to find a desire to serve fresh, high quality, sustainable fish. They even provide leadership on sustainable seafood sourcing from close to the continental divide. Chef Kelly Whitaker of Basta is a member of the Blue-Ribbon Task Force, a team of chefs who provide a chef’s perspective to the Seafood Watch program. A significant portion of the fish in the area comes through Seattle Fish Company, a 100-year-old fish distributor based in Denver. Hamish Walker, Director of Purchasing, is chairman of Sea Pact, a group of nine leading North American seafood companies who strive to advance environmentally sustainable fisheries and fish farms.
Wild Standard is one of the first restaurants in Colorado to serve Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) fish, which uses a blue fish label to certify that the fish is fully traceable, from ocean to plate, from a sustainable source and fishery. The more consumers that buy MSC certified fish help increase the demand, which can ultimately influence fisheries to improve their practices and become MSC certified. Chef Bradford Heap told us about how he really began looking deeper into where his food was coming from and about health impacts based on the way foods are grown or raised after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
At Wild Standard and his other two restaurants, Salt and Coltera, Chef Heap works hard to source organic ingredients when possible and quickly names off the sources for his other proteins. He started checking the Monterey Aquarium list after he made the transition to really learning and understanding the food he was selling in the late 1990’s. Heap, as intrigued as he was, asked so many questions that he was known to annoy the purveyors of his fish — getting down to the nitty gritty and asking them to find out what food the fish were eating. This comes in part from a desire to keep GMO’s off the menu whenever possible.
“I just love water and I love fish, and that is why I opened Wild Standard,” says Bradford. “Ever since I was a little boy I would go scalloping and crabbing. I would go out there all day and it was the most exciting thing that had every happened to me. To be on the ocean was absolute nirvana and I have recreated that at Wild Standard. I have 13-year-old twins and I am working hard to make sure they have every chance to have a good life, and their kids if they choose to have children, but I think that lays in the balance with people making decisions on where things come from.”
Boulder-based Love the Wild just expanded their reach to be in most of the Whole Foods stores around the country. The company sources exclusively from aquaculture, also known as fish farming, and they work with fish farmers around the world to ensure they’re bringing in products that are good for the people and the planet. Farm-raised seafood has gotten a bad rap due to some farmers cutting corners and causing problems like releasing pollution, fish escapes, and poor work conditions. With wild fisheries in decline, farm-raised fish done right may be a necessity if we want to keep consuming fish.
And we should want to keep consuming fish — there are benefits to farming fish over meat. Already, about half of all fish consumed in the world comes from aquaculture. Farm raising a pound of fish requires 1.2 pounds of feed compared to 13 pounds for beef, and beef requires 2,500 gallons of water compared to 1 gallon per pound for farmed fish. According to Barry Hirsch of Love the Wild, they are unique — supplying the home with fish prepped and ready to be cooked and a sauce that can be easily baked. It comes straight from the freezer into the oven, which eliminates the funky smells of raw fish. The box has a heart shaped piece of parchment, a piece of good fish, and three heart-shaped containers of sauce. The fish goes on the parchment, the sauce goes on top of that, and the parchment is crimped into a pouch. This is a classic technique known as fish en papillote (if you’re French) or al cartoccio (if you’re Italian). It steams the fish and prevents drying out, even if you let the fish go all the way to well done.
If fast casual is more your pace, Reelfish Fish and Chips is bringing in fresh fish on a weekly basis as well. I walked in with owner Dan Wolfson standing by the counter, ready to talk about his fish. I will also add Blue Reef Seafood in Longmont to my list of specialty food stores worth visiting. This little shop specializes in allowing customers to order high quality fish from the same sources used by restaurants. Stop in to check what they happen to have in stock, as it varies week to week. When buying fish, it helps to have someone willing to answer your questions and, in a small shop like this, you can really get to know the people who are ordering your fish and, by way of them, the fish you’re eating.