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Foodie Fish Shocker

Foodie fish shocker: Why top restaurants are abandoning the ocean wild for . . . farming

Nara farm salmon sushi
At Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen, I had an interesting discussion with sushi chef JoJo Urbano, who was slicing up some fresh salmon for some delicious sake toro nigir. Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen/Facebook
JoJo Urbano sushi chef Nara
JoJo Urbano, sushi chef at Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen. Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen/Facebook
Nara farm salmon sushi
JoJo Urbano sushi chef Nara
News_Marene Gustin_columnist_mug_head shot

Have you seen the story on Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market? CBS Sunday Morning first ran it back in March but reran it recently. It totally made me hungry for sushi.

So I hit up Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen for some fish. And had an interesting discussion with sushi chef Jojo Urbano who was slicing up some fresh salmon for some delicious sake toro nigiri, the belly fat slice that sits on the hand-rolled rice.

Apparently, he had ordered some wild Alaskan salmon recently that was not acceptable. So he phoned some sushi chef friends who said they had had the same problem and switched to farm raised salmon.

Was it just a bad run this year? Or something more?

 Foodies have raved about wild salmon for ages but now we are seeing more restaurants switch to farmed salmon and seeing more salmon farms crop up. 

Earlier this year, when having a conversation about sushi with my sister (the international version of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) who will not only not eat raw fish but now insists that any fish from Japan is suspect, I started to wonder about the effects of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown on the Pacific Ocean. Could the radiation affect our salmon?

Turns out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been monitoring just this. This summer they issued a statement saying radiation levels in Pacific and Alaskan salmon are within eatable ranges, but they are continuing to check those levels.

Foodies have raved about wild salmon for ages but now we are seeing more restaurants switch to farmed salmon and seeing more salmon farms crop up. On more menus, like the one at Monarch at Hotel ZaZa, you’ll see “organic” salmon listed.

Sometimes this is the traditional salmon raised in open-net ocean pens. Those are the farms that have traditionally been considered unsustainable and not particularly eco-friendly. And how organic is it really if things drift into the nets and the fish eat them? You can’t really tell what they are eating.

So companies like Seattle’s AquaSeed are moving to more sustainable and more easily monitored feeding farms in freshwater containment systems. The Washington State Senate recognized AquaSeed’s salmon in 2010 as SuperGreen. Which is supposed to be a good thing in the aquaculture industry.

A New Food Future

Fish farming still has its issues but as our oceans face more pollution issues — from radioactive waste to oil spills — farming may become a way of life. Farmed salmon may be the new screw cap wine bottle.

And, going back to Tsukiji — the world's biggest fish market that may have to move in two years to make way for the 2020 Summer Olympics — which routinely sets records for selling blue fin tuna. The most expensive (one tuna this year sold for $1.8 million) and popular sushi delicacy has been a concern for years because of overfishing.

 Fish farming may be an important part of our future. 

The giant fish need years to mature to the point of reproducing and the older ones can weigh as much as a ton. But with their popularity they are being caught at younger and younger ages, thus depleting the population.

For years Japan and Spain have tried farming the big tunas in open-net ocean pens, but just last year Japan’s Fisheries Research Agency started a land tank blue fin farm. It will be years, if not decades, before we know if this will lower costs and increase the supply of the delicious blue fin.

I find all of this fascinating. Where will our food come from in the future?

If you believe in the Malthusian theory — that the population will eventually outstrip agriculture production (see Dan Brown’s latest novel) — then fish farming may be an important part of our future.

Or maybe the zombie apocalypse will cut down the population and, if we survive, we can have all the fish we want.

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