If you’re looking for sustainable sushi, it doesn’t exist in Toronto – at least not yet. Typically, sushi chefs prefer using wild fish, because it’s infested with fewer parasites and other nasties compared to farmed fish. So which choices are best when you get that craving for raw seafood?
Tuna (maguro): Tuna can be good and it can be bad. The mercury risk is high. And demand for prized melt-in-your-mouth bluefin has caused it to become severely overfished; stocks have declined 90 per cent since the 70s. Good alternatives: yellowfin from the U.S. Atlantic, Pacific skipjack and albacore.
Red Snapper (tai): Bad choice. Its stocks, found mainly in Mexico and the U.S., are heavily overfished. Snapper also suffers from high incidence of bycatch (like collateral damage – getting caught by accident).
Mackerel (saba): A highly migratory and fast-growing fish. The downside is that it goes bad quickly, and you need to be near the catch to enjoy it. So don’t expect much mackerel in T.O.
Conger eel (unagi): These pose a mercury risk because of their bottom-feeding habits. It doesn’t help that, as carnivores, eels consume vast amounts of fish to survive.
Salmon (sake): It all comes down to where it’s from. Wild Alaskan? You’re good. Those stocks are well managed and relatively uncontaminated. But farmed stock are a cesspool for parasites.
Squid (ika): This translucent nigiri option isn’t a terrible choice. Squid are pretty resilient because of their short lifespan (one year) and high reproduction rate. Some specialized approaches to catching them also reduce bycatch, and it helps that they’re attracted to light, so can be caught at night. The downside? Their stocks are poorly observed and managed.
Octopus (tako): Like squid, octopuses have short lifespans. This really helps them dodge the threat of annihilation at our hands. They’re also tough to catch, so hunting them rarely results in collateral fish deaths. That said, they live in sensitive environments like reefs. Don’t eat them if you have a problem with eating smart creatures – they have the mental capacity of house cats.
Shrimp (ebi): Any shrimp farmed or caught in North America is acceptable, but 90 per cent of shrimp come from poorly regulated Asian waters, so chances are you’re eating something that puts mangrove forests, turtles and (possibly) your health at risk.
Fish roe: Salmon roe (ikura) is fine as long it comes from Alaskan or BC chum. However, tobiko, the tiny flying fish eggs that snap in your mouth, aren’t so good. They come from South Asia and have no traceability. Cheap sushi places will also use capelin roe from Europe. Make sure it’s from Iceland and you’re in the clear.
Sea urchin (uni): From the urchin’s unmentionables. If that doesn’t dissuade you, urchins are good choices. Stocks are healthy and well managed. Go for the gonads.
Abalone (awabi): This large Pacific sea snail is in the middle of recovering in the wild, but farmed stocks are fine. If they’re bigger than 4 inches, chances are they’re coming from wild sources, which is a big no-no.
Scallops (hotate): Farmed bay scallops are the best choice, and environmentally speaking, scallops act as filters, so farming isn’t bad. Wild-caught North American giant scallops are good, too, but try to find dive-caught over trawler-caught. Avoid mid-Atlantic giant scallops – they’re being overfished.