What is the Sensible Seafood program?
Mission: To promote seafood choices that make sense for a healthy marine environment.
The Sensible Seafood program helps consumers make sustainable seafood choices in stores and restaurants. Working in partnership with Monterey Bay Aquarium and an Advisory Panel of regional seafood experts, our Sensible Seafood program provides you with a handy reference pocket guide that rates the most popular seafood items as green, yellow or red. Green items are best choices for seafood that is abundant, well-managed, and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. Yellow items are good alternatives to consider when best choices are not available, though there may be some concerns with how they are caught or farmed. You should avoid red items, at least for now, because they are over-fished or are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment. Click here for more information on Monterey Bay's program.
Because populations and harvesting methods change, our Sensible Seafood pocket guide and supporting information will be reviewed on a regular basis. The Sensible Seafood Advisory Panel meets annually to discuss new information on sustainable seafood sources, fisheries management, and species biology and revise the program’s recommendations, accordingly. Our program promotes seafood species that are grown in, or harvested from, Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region. Click here for a listing of participating restaurants and partners.
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What is sustainable seafood and why does it matter?
Sustainable seafood comes from sources, either fished or farmed, that can continue to produce into the future without negatively affecting their populations or natural ecosystems. As consumers, we can be good stewards of the environment by making the right choices when we purchase our seafood. Sustainable seafood is Sensible Seafood, and that makes sense for a healthy marine environment.
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How do we determine if seafood is sustainable?
- How is the species population doing? – This seems like an obvious question, but in order to know if the seafood we are consuming is a good choice, we need to know about the life history of the species and if its population is abundant or disappearing. Some species easily reproduce in large numbers and grow to maturity very fast. Others, such as sharks, reproduce and mature more slowly. Understanding these factors is critical for good fisheries management. Abundant species from well managed fisheries make good seafood choices.
- Where does the seafood come from? – Is the seafood from local sources, from other parts of the U.S, or imported? This is important because, like many other commodities, seafood can now be transported all over the globe. Seafood from local sources has the potential to be fresher and reduces the financial and environmental costs of long distance transport. Additionally, U.S. fisheries may be better managed than some foreign fisheries. These factors are important when considering where a seafood item might originate.
- Is the seafood wild-caught, or is it farmed? – As seafood has become more popular, many species are now raised on farms, a process called aquaculture. In some cases, the wild stock of a species may be depleted, but there is a good supply from aquaculture, like catfish. In other cases, the farmed stock has been associated with problems and the wild-caught stock is the better choice, like some shrimp. Of course, most of our seafood choices still come mostly from wild-caught stocks.
- How is the seafood harvested? – Are the fishing or aquaculture practices environmentally sound? To answer this question, we must understand fisheries and aquaculture techniques and how they are applied for harvesting different seafood species. Some fisheries techniques, like bottom trawling or dredging, have the potential to damage ocean bottom communities like corals. Others may have unintended catches of unwanted animals, called bycatch. Bycatch can include unwanted fishes and even sea turtles or marine mammals. Finally, poorly managed aquaculture operations can damage coastal ecosystems. Well managed fisheries and aquaculture, utilizing sound techniques to minimize bycatch and ecosystem impacts, provide the best seafood choices.
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How do we make sensible choices?
Use the Sensible Seafood pocket guide – carry and consult the guide when making choices in the store, or when dining out. Click here to download the current Sensible Seafood pocket guide.
Buy local sustainable seafood – not only does buying local usually ensure the freshest seafood, it also helps support an important segment of the local economy. Virginia’s seafood industry is the third-largest in the country, producing vast amounts of blue crabs, scallops, clams, croaker, spot, striped bass, and oysters that are shipped all over the world. Puchase sustainable seafood in your area, where you know and understand the harvesting or growing process, to think globally and act locally.
Choose Sensible Seafood restaurant partners – a great way to make sensible choices is to visit one of our restaurant partners. These partners have agreed to serve seafood that is approved from our Sensible Seafood pocket guide. Partner restaurants will also provide information on sustainable seafood to their staff and patrons. The Sensible Seafood program has been endorsed by the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association.
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What is the Virginia Aquarium doing?
Sodexo – internationally-recognized Sodexo is the Aquarium’s foodservice provider. As part of their pledge to the environment and in support of the Aquarium’s mission, they have agreed to serve only sustainable seafood in their Café and at all Aquarium catered events. In addition, Sodexo is recognized as a “green provider” (reducing waste, recycling and buying green products) by the Virginia Green program, and has won national awards for its environmentally-responsible programs at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Sensible Seafood Fest - The aquarium invites friends and foodies to this annual one-evening festival in May to sample foods from Sensible Seafood restaurant partners, attend cooking demonstrations by award-winning chefs, and learn about regional efforts focused on restoration, sustainability, and environmental stewardship.
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How do we select and prepare sensible seafood?
Once you’ve selected a fresh, delicious-looking piece of fish or the perfect oysters, don’t overcook! The proteins in seafood are very tender and cook quickly, and are best cooked at high heat for a very short time. You can also use the “Canadian rule,” or ten minutes of cooking for every inch of thickness in a piece of fish. However, all fish are different and it may take a little practice. You can always put the seafood back into the pot or under the broiler, so when in doubt, take it out! And remember that the seafood will continue to cook a little after it’s removed from the heat source.
Click here for delicious and sensible seafood recipes from our in-house gourmet chef and advisory panel member.
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Your Two “Sense”
Let us know what you think of the Sensible Seafood program! Click here to send us an email.
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