Fish Smart: Minnesota Zoo launches sustainability effort

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Fish Smart.jpg
​Farm to table is a badge of restaurant pride many list boldly on their menus. It says they are nurturing relationships with area farms to bring local produce and animals to the table using methods kind to the soils and animals. As a landlocked state, we don't always hear much about seafood sustainability. And when we hear about alarming mercury numbers or plummeting marine populations, it's easy to fall down a wormhole leading one to think, "Is there anything that's safe to eat?"

The Minnesota Zoo has stepped up to help eaters deal with such dilemmas.  Beginning with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's fishing guidelines, the zoo has launched Fish Smart. Its goal is to raise awareness about ocean fishing and to work with local restaurants to serve seafood from the "green" list, or recommended choices.

We spoke with Josh Nelson of the Minnesota zoo, an avid fisherman whose passion for the project runs deeper than just a day job. He gave us some insight into what the zoo is doing and which area chefs have already committed.

Can you give us a brief synopsis of what Fish Smart is doing?
The goal is to raise public awareness of the issues our oceans are facing in regard to the seafood we consume by partnering with Twin Cities chefs who are willing to commit to serving sustainably caught seafood.  [We've] partnered with Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program for 10 years. They produce those handy wallet guides that help us make informed decisions.

While most Minnesotans do not directly interact with the ocean on a daily basis, we do have an impact. The salmon, shrimp, and tuna in our supermarkets and restaurants have long-term environmental consequences. Since seafood is more often purchased in restaurants than cooked at home, the Minnesota Zoo has developed this program to target restaurant owners and chefs in order to quickly diversify the amount of sustainable seafood choices in the Twin Cities.

Which local chefs have you partnered with thus far?
We have Oceanaire, Meritage, Heidi's, Sea Change, and Masu Sushi, with many more that are close to committing. Our food partner here at the Minnesota Zoo, Lancers, has also made the pledge. By our launch in October we hope to have two dozen partners.

Are there any upcoming events?
Yes, on September 18 we will host a Seafood Throwdown, which is basically a fun Iron Chef type of cooking demo that will feature both sustainably caught seafood and locally sourced produce.

On October 13, the Minnesota Zoo will host its annual Fish First event, featuring Fish Smart chefs showing off their skills against the backdrop of Discovery Bay. As the program moves forward in October, we plan on launching a Fish of the Month program as well. Local fish distributors and grocers will partner with Fish Smart to have readily available the same seafood products that our chef partners will use. Video cooking demonstrations and online recipes from our Fish Smart chefs will be available so you can recreate the dish at home.

Fish Smart on Facebook
Minnesota Zoo website
Seafood Watch website to download free Apps for seafood sustainability raitings

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This is admirable, but wouldn't it be great if the Zoo also turned their attention to the rest of their concessions? They say their concessionaire, Lancer's, has taken the pledge, but this is meaningless, as I doubt they offer more than one or two seafood items, if even that.

The Zoo has some of the worst food in the entire state -- from both a sustainability and a pure edibility standpoint. They could be a real leader in this issue, not just at Oceanaire and Meritage, but at home.


Excellent idea! Mercury frightens me and we need the education to eliminate it our of our food sources. I will look forward to learning more about one of our state's leading resources, fish/

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