Sunday, July 8, 2007

Eat Local: Everywhere water, yet no fish to be found!

“They’re from the U.S.A.,” the Vons seafood manager said to me, her eyebrows raised in an expression akin to alarm. I had simply asked if anything they stocked was local catch. “I mean,” I said as she looked blankly at me, “was it caught here in San Diego?” (and added a small smile of encouragement.) “They’re from the U.S.A.,” she repeated again, though dismissively this time and turned her back to me to restock the shrimp display. “Um, thanks.” Right. I had assumed, but now knew for certain, that my neighborhood Vons was not going to be my source. The entire U.S.A. can hardly be considered local. Sigh.

I had decided to start my search for local seafood at the most conventional, convenient spots and see where it took me. Since seafood caught in the wild cannot be considered organic (only those grown on farms can be certified), I set some broad rules for my seafood purchases: they must be locally caught and they must be caught in a sustainable way. In most cases, that would mean pole-caught or hand-line fished, both methods which eliminate the use of nets. Many dolphins and fish species are caught unnecessarily in nets, contributing to overfishing.

My search continued on to The Fish Market – less a fish market than a sit-down restaurant that serves seafood. Nevertheless, I knew they had a selection of unprepared fish, and since they were close to my home, I tried them next. The 17-year old behind the counter with a bad hair cut (but stylishly layered polos, nevertheless) also gave me a blank stare when I asked him about local catch (this was becoming a pattern), so I asked if he had any ideas. “Try our larger branch downtown.” And then he threw in a comment about how I was going to have a hard time. He didn’t care to explain when I asked for more details.

I dialed the downtown branch with some hesitation. I had begun to lose my sureness, so when the man on the other end told me that they stock halibut and white sea bass (both caught locally), I was relieved. He couldn’t tell me anything about how they’d been caught, however.

Whole Foods was my next try. They have a seafood sustainability statement that seemed pretty solid, but would they stock local catch? Back to the phone I went.

Jared of the seafood department, gave me the same line, “You’re going to have a tough time.” But he followed it up with two suggestions: Point Loma Seafoods and American Tuna. My hopes were revived! He also explained that the reason local seafood is scarce is because, firstly, the halibut industry down here is in steep competition with the halibut industry in Alaska (and not exactly winning), and secondly, the sea bass availability can be sketchy because of the difficulty of catching bass of legal size. He said, in no uncertain terms, if I wanted to eat seafood caught locally, I was going to be eating a LOT of canned tuna. Both Whole Foods and Jimbo’s Naturally stock American Tuna, which is pole caught. I bought one can to try it, but at over $5 for 6 ounces, it clearly is not going to be an economical solution.

I called Point Loma Seafoods after Whole Foods. They had some yellow-tail and some white sea bass available. They also had some Mexican shrimp (caught off Baja) and often stock halibut. Diversity – check. Sustainable fishing practices – unknown.

Catalina Offshore Products, a distributor I found online, was my last try, and there I finally found success. They specialize in local catch which is line-caught (once again saving those dolphins). The company is based here in San Diego. I intend to place an order this week to pick up at their warehouse (a privilege given to locals). I’ll let you know how it goes!

1 comment:

Alice Q. said...

A similar thing happened to me at Iowa Meat Farms - I asked if they carried any local beef or pork from Southern California and they looked at me like I was daft. I asked about grassfed meat, and they said they don't carry it because they don't like it. I plan to try Hamilton's next.