Seafood: Another Reason To Think Local Over Global

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the import of several kinds of Chinese farm-raised seafood, including catfish, shrimp, eel and dace (a kind of carp). It is a complicated story involving restricted antibiotics, unregulated (and unsanitary) overseas fish farms, a disproportionate ratio of FDA inspectors to imported seafood (85 to 6.6 million) and a whole lot of politicking.

It is also another compelling reason to eat local.

Remember last year's big food safety imbroglio, when E. coli-contaminated spinach killed three people and sickened at least 200 others around the country? Yeah, it's hard to forget -- and have you resumed buying those prewashed bags in the supermarket? It was early fall at the time of the nationwide scare, when spinach, a cool weather crop, was coming into season along the Northeast and in the Midwest. It was also an appropriate time to reflect on buying seasonally and locally, as a way to counteract the impact of taking the lead of industrial-scale agriculture.

Now shoppers, there's imported seafood to worry about. The rub with the local angle is that unlike spinach, which can easily be grown in our own backyards, seafood is often not a local option in the purest sense. The local fish market, selling catch from nearby waters, is a dying breed, even for those who live along a coastline. Where does local fit into the seafood equation these days?

As close as you can get. The answer -- at least for now -- is by and large, to buy domestic farm-raised and wild seafood (with the exception of Atlantic farm-raised salmon). It's a lot of work, I know. Seafood shoppers need to be vigilant and ask where the stuff is coming from, but not all seafood counters carry all things. The burden is resting on us, to hunt for sustainable and safe seafood. Short of casting a net or a pole, if you like seafood, you've got pre-purchase homework to do.

Below, a handful of sources worth exploring, with an emphasis on local, regional and sustainable.

In the Washington area, Marvest Farms in Hurlock, Md. raises sustainable head-on shrimp, starting at $8 per pound, plus shipping.

The folks from Buster's Seafood in Urbanna, Va., make the drive every Sunday to sell soft-shell crabs, flounder and whatever is seasonally swimming in the York, James and Rappahannock Rivers. They set up shop at the Dupont Circle Freshfarm Market.

For options with a broader geographic range, check out the nifty database compiled by Washington nonprofit Seafood Choices Alliances, which includes sources of domestic farmed and wild-caught seafood around the country. You can search by species, and you'll get a search return with contact info and Web site details.

Shrimp lovers may want to get to know the White Boot Brigade, a group of shrimp fisherman dedicated to promoting the crustaceans of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Calling themselves "a traveling shrimpers road show, hell-bent on sustainable harvests, cultural preservation and business innovation," WBB has published on its Web site a running list of recommended Louisiana shrimpers to support.

If you're traveling or perhaps looking for something new to add to your seafood repertoire, consider the following species, all doing relatively well in American waters -- Pacific lingcod, Mediterranean mussels (one terrific source is Taylor shellfish in Shelton, Wash.) Atlantic bluefish, which is experiencing a rebound and sanddab, a flatfish found in waters along the West coast. Go here for more details on these species.

And for regular updates on the Chinese seafood situation, I recommend visiting the Web site of Food and Water Watch, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group.

Join me today at Noon ET for this week's What's Cooking.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 17, 2007; 11:19 AM ET Food Politics , Seafood
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Comments

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I know that you love my new city, do you know where the best place to buy local seafood is? Pike Place Market? Any of the local neighborhood farmers' markets? Thank you!

Posted by: New in Seattle | July 17, 2007 2:32 PM

New, I'm envious! In addition to Pike Place, there are local fish mkts -- there's one by a pier and I can't remember the name of it. There's also shellfish for sale at various farm markets, including Ballard and University. Oh, and there's Uwajimaya, a wonderful Asian market, top shelf stuff. I'm hoping some of my Seattle pals will chime in. I'll be out that way next month, can't wait.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | July 17, 2007 4:06 PM

Ok, here we go: the mkt near a pier is Wild Salmon Seafood Market, by Fishemen's Terminal. That's a goodie.
There's also University Seafood & Poultry on 47th St NE and I've been told Sandy's Sea Foods over on Greenwood Ave. North.
Have fun!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | July 17, 2007 4:13 PM

A comment related to today's chat if I may...

Cranberry beans (also known as shell beans) are best when very fresh. That is when the pods and the beans are a mix of cream and white colors and very moist.

They only take a few minutes to partially cook (either in the microwave or boiled)and are great when finished by adding to a saute of hearty local greens such as chard or kale, with loads of garlic, sweet onions, a bit of fresh hot peppers, basil, and native tomatoes. Add some pasta and parmesan and you have one of my favorite meals. I never, ever pass up fresh cranberry beans at the market!

Posted by: Jan | July 17, 2007 6:30 PM

Is there a good way to mail-order domestic seafood? I live in a western mountain town with chain grocery stores and no Whole Foods (our small natural foods grocery has a small refrig. case for fresh meat and occasional fish, but nothing dependable)

Posted by: KD | July 18, 2007 1:21 PM

KD, I would suggest looking at the link in the story to the Seafood Choices Alliance database that allows you to search for sources by species. Since you're out west, you may want to consider some of the Washington and Alaska-based retailers who sell online. Depends what you're looking for, though. Let me know if I can help any further.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | July 18, 2007 1:29 PM

Buying fish is getting so frustrating! Everyone says to eat more seafood because it's so healthy, but no one in my family really cares for it (I personally really hate fish, but force myself to eat it anyway). I have found that tilapia is a pretty good bet, but that's all farmed in Ecuador, even the stuff for sale at Whole Foods. Any advice would be most welcome!

Posted by: Ariel | July 18, 2007 5:29 PM

What about the stuff at the Maine Street Fish Market? How confident should I be purchasing fish etc. there?

Posted by: Terry Dowdy | July 18, 2007 6:27 PM

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