Q: Is there data that shows which Charleston-area restaurants serve only wild (not farm-raised) salmon? Sorry to bother you, but I’m sure that only you will have the best answer.
A: No bother! But there isn't really an easy answer, for a number of reasons:
Restaurants are constantly adjusting their purchase orders according to cash flow and ingredient availability. So even if there were an exhaustive survey of salmon sourcing at area restaurants, it might not be accurate the following week. Obviously, bigger companies are less nimble in that regard, which helps explain why most of the South Carolina restaurants on Seafood Watch's list of restaurant partners are actually Whole Foods locations.
To make the list, a restaurant just has to commit to not serve items from the advocacy group's state-specific "avoid" list, such as imported conch and orange roughy in South Carolina. Still, just because a Charleston restaurant hasn't registered with Seafood Watch doesn't mean it traffics in Chilean, Norwegian or Scottish salmon, all of which are classified as "avoid." Befitting its association with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Seafood Watch has a bigger presence on the West Coast.
Closer to home, the S.C. Aquarium also has a restaurant partner program, called "Good Catch." It might not help much on the salmon front, though, since it rates restaurants according to the percentage of local seafood on their menus (restaurants that protect the ocean by recycling and reducing their use of plastic get extra credit). That said, I'd bet restaurants seeking out platinum status are probably careful about their salmon choices.
But that raises two more issues. One, chefs aren't alone in committing seafood fraud. I'm sure you remember hearing back in 2015 that Oceana, the ocean conservation and advocacy organization, found salmon was mislabeled on restaurant menus 67 percent of the time. But that doesn't necessarily mean the restaurant owner is a scam artist: He or she may well have been misled by a distributor, who in turn may have gotten bad information from a supplier. In other words, a chef may think he's serving wild salmon, when in fact he's serving farmed salmon.
And that brings us to issue two: Farmed salmon isn't all bad these days. Seafood Watch last year bestowed a "good alternative" rating on farmed salmon that meets criteria set out by Aquaculture Stewardship Council, designed to encourage biodiversity and worker safety.
Complicating matters further, Charleston isn't a major salmon market, which probably gives chefs more leeway to serve questionable salmon. I'd guess though that if salmon makes the menu at Tavern & Table, where chef Ray England recently landed, it'll be the wild kind. When England worked in California, he was sponsored by one of the salmon associations, so he's proficient in preparing the fish and knows the right purveyors for it. He served a terrific smoked salmon when he briefly co-operated a Jewish deli pop-up at Workshop.
Alternately, have you considered sticking to South Carolina shrimp?
In all seriousness, thank you for asking. After all, eating isn't so enjoyable if we're causing undue harm with our food choices.
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