I consider myself a fairly savvy grocery shopper. Whether I’m grabbing produce or canned goods, dairy or snacks, I can look for the USDA organic seal, or scrutinize ingredient statements to make educated decisions. There are brands I trust and labeling regulations I understand. But, when it comes to seafood, I’m at a loss. Often, fish is displayed with little information beyond variety and price. Even when I know where a particular scallop or fillet came from or how it was harvested, I’m not sure how to interpret those details – farmed is bad? Line caught is good. Bottom trawling is out. Imported? Local?
“It’s not black or white,” agrees Laura Anderson, owner of Local Ocean Seafoods, a Newport, Oregon-based fish market and restaurant. I had the chance to get some advice from Anderson on how to make the best choices. Anderson is a third-generation fisherman with an impressive list of credentials – a Master’s in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University, extensive work as an independent Marine Resource Management Consultant to organizations such as Oregon SeaGrant, Environmental Defense and the Oregon Salmon Commission, and Peace Corps volunteer working on costal management in the Philippines. She founded Local Ocean Seafoods in 2002 with the mission to “give people the best seafood experience of their lives.”
With views of the Yaquina Bay from its big roll-up windows, cool polished cement floors and an open kitchen, the location has a clean, modern feel. In addition to the restaurant, which serves favorites like fish tacos and crab cakes as well as specialties like Shrimp & Spicy Noodle Salad, visitors can pick up the freshest daily catch from to take home.
Anderson is passionate about wild, local fish. Over the years, she’s developed relationships with a network of about 60 fisherman, many from Newport, to supply her shop. She understands their fishing methods, and knows they can meet her discerning quality standards.
Several “sustainable” fish guidelines have emerged over the past few years, so it is becoming easier to learn about what varieties you should choose. The Marine Stewardship Council seal, MSC, is currently the most credited, but there’s also very detailed information from FishWatch or the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide. Unfortunately, at least for busy consumers, there’s no government-regulated seal to turn to in order to know at a glance seafood has met any sustainable requirements.
That’s why it’s important to get to know your fishmonger. Anderson says that’s the most important thing a consumer can do – visit a local fish shop and start asking questions. Find someone you can trust, and let them help you make your fish decisions. In the Local Ocean Seafoods Market, you’ll find all the selections clearly marked with labels explaining not only where and how the fish was caught, but often even the name of the boat and the fisherman.
Anderson’s approach not only supports healthy fish populations, but also protects the vibrancy and local economy of working waterfronts. The real fishing industry has disappeared at too many seaports, replaced by tourism. By emphasizing fish caught in local waters, Anderson helps the fishing industry in Newport thrive.
Now that our travels have taken us far from the coast, I’m even more reluctant to buy fish. But I will keep Anderson’s advice in mind – I’m looking for what’s available locally, like Rainbow Trout, and will ask even more questions about where my fish came from, who caught it, and how.