By Mike McDermid, Vancouver Aquarium

I was looking at BC seafood sales the other day—not something that everyone finds that interesting, I know, but what I noticed is that the sales of BC seafood products were up seven per cent last year. This was partly due to the record run of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River—makes sense—but the other two contributors were albacore tuna and sablefish. Now that is interesting…let me share why!

The fact is that BC albacore and sablefish were relatively small contributors just a short number of years ago, so what has changed? It seems that we are witnessing and, really, contributing to a seafood revolution.

If you enjoy seafood as much as I do, think back to a decade ago, sitting in a restaurant and looking at the menu’s seafood options. You would have likely spotted the typical salmon and tuna but, no doubt, you would have also seen Chilean sea bass (also known as Patagonian toothfish, a much less appetizing name).

These days, perusing local menus, you will likely still see salmon (but it would be indicated as wild salmon) and albacore tuna, but Chilean sea bass has been replaced by fish such as sablefish, an Ocean Wise choice. Believe it or not, you just joined the new culinary revolution. An ocean renaissance, if you will, that forward-thinking chefs have been leading us on over the past few years.

Let me explain… Just over 10 years ago, a chef in a popular seafood restaurant (yes, it’s Ocean Wise) was serving Chilean sea bass on his menu. He began to notice that the fish he was buying was getting smaller and smaller, and the flesh quality was deteriorating to the point that he could no longer serve it. The chef looked into the fishery hoping to understand how they could ensure better quality fish. What they discovered was a turning point.

After looking into the fishery, this chef realized that he was receiving juvenile fish because there were no adult fish left to fish. The Patagonian toothfish (sorry, Chilean sea bass) were being fished to extinction to fuel our taste buds. And that’s when things changed.

Not wanting to be a part of the extinction of a species, the chef looked locally for a more sustainable solution and came across sablefish. In BC, it is fished in traps, is a much more sustainable fishery, and delicious choice. In Japan, sablefish (known as gindara) has been enjoyed for ages. It is a fantastic fish, with many of the same characteristics that made Chilean sea bass so popular, and now is one of the more popular fish in BC.

This shift in practice has been happening on land for many years—chefs have been leading us on a culinary renaissance to more responsible and sustainable food production. Words like local, seasonal, organic, fair trade, and sustainable are commonplace, but this was not the case a couple of decades ago, and with seafood as little as five years ago. This has been led by chefs, helping us to understand that our food does not come from a box at the supermarket but, rather, from the land and sea. If we want to continue to coexist with our current food sources, we need to get serious about being responsible with the way we produce our food.

The interesting result of chefs changing their practices and adopting more sustainable food sources is that they are also helping to change our traditional tastes. With the help of our local chefs, more of us now choose sustainable choices (such as sablefish) and leave unsustainable choices (including Chilean sea bass) in the ocean to, hopefully, regenerate.

As consumers, our choices at the market and restaurants also help to fuel the shift. Our demand for more sustainable choices means fishers must produce more sustainable choices, leaving unwanted items behind.

November is Ocean Wise month and we invite you to celebrate this ocean renaissance by supporting sustainable fisheries and eating ocean-friendly seafood. On November 2nd, at the Fairmont Royal York, 9 of Toronto’s top Ocean Wise chefs competed in the finals for the 2011 title of Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown Champion inToronto—this is a delicious event where guests taste all 9 original chowders, paired with local craft beer, all in support of sustainable seafood. Join the Vancouver Aquarium in celebrating Ocean Wise month by taking this pledge to eat Ocean Wise during the month of November. Learn more