Nashville Restaurant Educates Customers On Sustainable Seafood

Aug 19, 2018
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Americans love seafood, so much so that we're overfishing some of our favorite species. Now some restaurants are making a commitment to serve sustainable seafood. Amy Eskind from member station WPLN visited a restaurant in Nashville and listened in on a teachable dinner.

AMY ESKIND, BYLINE: At seafood restaurant Fin & Pearl, Danny Butler does his regular lunchtime shtick for diners.

DANNY BUTLER: Today on the yellowedge grouper is our sauteed option that's coming from Cape Canaveral. We also have grilled striped bass today - comes from Massachusetts - delicious options today.

ESKIND: But this isn't the typical rundown of lunch specials. If customers ask, Butler can give a lot more information about the catch, down to the name of the captain of the fishing boat. The restaurant only buys fish caught in a way that doesn't harm the fish stock or the ocean ecosystem. That makes diner Tricia Eusibo happy.

TRICIA EUSIBO: People - we don't know what sustainable seafood is or what that really means until you come in, and then it's like a double - added value that that's part of something that tastes so great. That and the food make me want to eat here.

ESKIND: Last winter, customers came in hankering for stone crabs. Waitress Alanna Quinn-Broadus had bad news. Scores of octopus in south Florida were scarfing down the crabs, causing an unexpected shortage. She didn't just apologize, she gave diners a full explanation.

ALANNA QUINN-BROADUS: They're, like, bummed that the stone crab claw's not available, but they're also, like, oh, you're not serving it because the population is low. And then you can say, oh, but, like, eat the octopus, and you can get your crab claws back. And it's entertaining. It's educational. And it's just part of, like, the thing here, you know what I mean? It's part of, like, the whole mission.

ESKIND: That mission was started by Nashville restaurateur Tom Morales. As a fisherman himself, his passion is evident. He says sustainable seafood comes at a premium that's worth the higher cost in the long run.

TOM MORALES: I think there's going to be a point of - oh, heck moment where everybody's going to say, we screwed up.

ESKIND: Species depletion isn't the industry's only problem. There are ties to slavery, questionable fish farming practices, and even fraud, passing off a low-cost fish for a pricey one. At least in the United States, the industry is trying to clean up. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program in California is trying to help restaurants and consumers. The aquarium's Ryan Bigelow says the list of which fish to buy and which to avoid changes.

RYAN BIGELOW: The onus is and should be on the business to provide that information, not for the consumer to have to go fishing for it, pardon the pun.

ESKIND: But he says diners can help by ordering something perhaps unfamiliar. Back at Fin & Pearl, diners won't see Chilean sea bass, but they may find Alaskan inconnu. Lunchtime regular Lynn Tinsey is receptive. She comes in for the rotating catch-of-the-day sandwich.

LYNN TINSEY: I always say, is it a white fish? And they're like, yep. And I'm like, great, let's try it. But I can't remember any of the names.

ESKIND: To keep a healthy supply of seafood on the table for years to come, more and more restaurants are making a commitment to serve sustainable fish, and the dining public is slowly catching on. For NPR News, I'm Amy Eskind in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF HALFSLEEP'S "OPAQUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.