Berkeley food hot-spots in spotlight for fish sustainability

Only half of the seafood on menus at some top Bay Area restaurants are sustainably harvested. Photo: Tracey Taylor.

Monterey Fish Market, Chez Panisse and Sea Salt are some of the Bay Area food destinations that come under scrutiny for the sustainability of the seafood by sell in an investigative story in San Francisco Magazine‘s February issue, published tomorrow.

The piece, by Erik Vance, finds that only half of the seafood on the menus at many supposedly eco-conscious Bay Area restaurants are sustainably harvested. Vance reports that many famous chefs and top restaurants continue to include unsustainable choices such as ahi tuna, monkfish and farmed salmon on their menus, while their suppliers “keep selling red-listed fish to whoever wants it”.

The article points out that although many chefs have good relationships with farmers and ranchers — often giving them a shout-out on their menus — they don’t always have direct connections with fishermen. “Even the many chefs who go out of their way to ask the right questions of the people they get their fish from can be misled by the half-truths told all along the supply chain,” writes Vance.

On one night in December, San Francisco Magazine collected the menus from 18 restaurants which like to highlight their organic and sustainability credentials. They then traced the source of the listed seafood to assess how the fish was caught, and scored them based on the percentage of the seafood that was deemed to be “truly sustainable’. Chez Panisse scored 63% with eight fish on the menu, compared to 75% at Oliveto (4), 60% at Wood Tavern (5), 46% at Boulevard (13) and 42% (7) at Flora.


Chez Panisse co-chef Beth Wells is quoted as saying the restaurant trusts its main supplier, Monterey Fish Market, to provide the right seafood. Monterey Fish Market has a stellar reputation as far as sustainability goes, but it, and other fish dealers like Ports Seafood, express concern that if they refuse to sell certain fish, restaurants will simply go elsewhere. Tom Worthington, a partner at Monterey Fish Market, says he is working on converting reluctant chefs and other wholesalers to behave more responsibly.

At Sea Salt, chef Scott Gehring tells Vance that although they do their best to be sustainable, and have taken red-listed items off the menu, it can be hard going.

Read the full story in print and online in San Francisco Magazine tomorrow.