Mind your Sushi

Mind your Sushi

I, like most people I know, simply loooooove sushi. I can abandon pretty much any other dinner plan if someone invites me for sushi. It was a long time ago though when I realised that everyone eating exactly the same fishes all over the world couldn’t be a good thing for our environment. So I started researching and found a lot of information about what we consumers need to know to choose more ocean-friendly seafood at our favourite restaurants and stores.

First, let me introduce you to the “4S rule”, a simple if somewhat crude guide for those who are interested in shifting their sushi dining habits towards a more sustainable paradigm. It was beautifully written by Mark Bittman, the well-known author of many groundbreaking and popular articles and books about food and the environment. It’s not a perfect system, but keeping the 4S in mind while you order can markedly diminish your environmental footprint at that meal.


Smaller fish are generally lower on the trophic scale – the food chain – grow more quickly, die younger, and breed in larger numbers. These biological survival tactics are used by many fish to help them withstand heavy predation — they play the numbers game and simply create as many offspring as possible, so a few manage to escape the yawning maws of hungry predators. In essence, these fish that are designed to be eaten. Their physiology and population dynamics are generally more resilient to fishing pressures and protein demands than top-of-the-food-chain carnivores like large tunas, swordfish, and sharks. (And smaller fish generally have less mercury in their systems than apex predators.)

Examples: Sardines (iwashi), skipjack tuna (katsuo), horse mackerel (aji)


Seasonality is key to sustainability. If we are to reduce our carbon dependency and rekindle our connection to the ocean, we need to be more aware of where we are and what time of year it is when we order our fish. A good rule of thumb is to order off the specials board rather than the laminated menu when possible – any items on a year-round menu are unlikely to be sourced on a basis of seasonal awareness. (It was our demand that certain intrinsically seasonal products be available to us year-round that gave rise to environmental missteps like conventional salmon farming.) Seasonal fish also offers us the added opportunity to take advantage of seasonal vegetables and fruits, which innovative chefs often incorporate into their specials.

Examples: Wild salmon (sake), Dungeness crab (kani), spot prawns (ama ebi),


Perhaps the most surprising: eat sushi served with silver skin. This category of fish is known as hikari mono in Japanese, and contains mackerels, halfbeaks, shads, and similar fish. They tend to be loaded with omega-3s, are as low in mercury, and can be sourced from many well-managed fisheries. An added bonus is that the hikari mono are some of the most treasured fish in the repertoire of a traditional sushi chef; a menu featuring these items will often prove to be an unforgettable culinary experience.  I highly encourage all sushi-goers to explore the world of hikari mono — you just may find your new absolute ultimate all-time favorite sushi item.

Examples: Mackerel (saba), Pacific saury (sanma), Spanish mackerel (sawara)


I’m speaking specifically of bivalves and mollusks. Bivalve and mollusk aquaculture has sound environmental benefits, and tends to involve relatively low-impact farming methods when compared to other types of fish farming. As filter-feeders, animals like clams, scallops, and oysters can be grown without the use of any additional feed. This reduces their dependence on marine resources and eliminates the kind of inefficient protein use that we find in operations like hamachi and unagi ranches.  These mollusks also grow quickly, and can be raised in cages and bags that require no dredging or other types of seabed alteration during harvest.

Examples: Oysters (kaki), mussels (muurugai), geoduck (mirugai)

Guides to Sustainable Fish 

Here you will find an updated list of sustainable fish guides produced by various organizations as part of international, regional, national or themed campaigns. These guides, some more detailed than others, all aim to make consumers more aware of the current state of marine resources.
These guides are often plagued by contradictions as the subject is incredibly complicated: evaluating fish stocks, which are constantly moving through an immense space, is not an easy task. Moreover, the fish industry (fishing, processing, distribution) is highly globalized, making the traceability of fish products a very tricky issue. The complexity of these commercial pathways also encourages fraud and adulteration.
These guides, therefore, should be used within the context of a broader philosophy: the Slow Fish philosophy. It’s good to have it in mind next time you go to a sushi restaurant:


Greenpeace: Red List

Environmental Justice Foundation: Consumer Guide to Prawns

Sustainable Sushi

Fischimhandy International Seafood Guide

incofish Species Information Service
To know more about farmed salmon, click here.

North America


Greenpeace: Red List

Greenpeace: Retailer Ranking
To learn more about farmed salmon, click here.

United States

Through its Seafood Watch program, the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has developed three different guide formats: detailed fact sheets, Regional Seafood Watch Pocket Guides and a Sushi Guide.
You can also download the app Seafood Watch . The app makes it easier than ever to get the latest recommendations for seafood and sushi, learn more about the seafood you eat, and locate or share businesses that serve sustainable seafood.
The Environmental Defense Fund has produced a Seafood Selector, a Pocket Seafood Selector, a Sushi Selector and a Pocket Sushi Selector.
The Blue Ocean Institute offers a Seafood Guide and a Sushi Guide.
FishPhone is an SMS service run by Blue Ocean.
NOAA: Fish Watch
New England Aquarium: Ocean-Friendly Seafood Species
Greenpeace USA has drawn up a list of retailers who have adopted a responsible policy towards sustainable fish.
Fish2Fork: Sustainable Seafood Restaurant Guide and widgets
To know more about farmed salmon, click here.



Slow Food: Mangiamoli giusti (in Italian)


WWF: Conso-guide des poissons (in French, also available in Dutch)


WWF: Hva for en Fisk? (in Danish)


WWF: Meren herkkuja, ole hyvä! (in Finnish)


Greenpeace: Et ta mer t'y penses? and Pêche: Conduites Dangereuses (in French)
WWF: Guide de poche (in French)


Greenpeace: Fischerei (in German)
WWF: Einkaufsratgeber (in German)


Greenpeace: Guida ai consumi ittici (in Italian)
WWF: Sai che pesci pigliare (in Italian)

The Netherlands

De Noordzee/WWF: VIS wijzer (in Dutch)
Greenpeace: Maak Schoon Schap (in Dutch)
De Goede Vis (in Dutch)


Greenpeace: Przewodnik po gatunkach morskich (in Polish)
WWF: Jaka ryba na obiad (in Polish)

United Kingdom

The Marine Conservation Society has produced a Pocket Good Fish Guide, and Fishonline, an online and detailed buyer's guide to sustainable seafood
Fish2Fork: Sustainable Seafood Restaurant Guide and widgets


Greenpeace: Lista Roja (in Spanish)
WWF: Guía de consumo responsable de pescado (in Spanish)
Fish2Fork: Sustainable Seafood Restaurant Guide


WWF: Fisk till middag? (in Swedish)


WWF: Pocket guides in German, French and Italian

Asia and Oceania


Australian Marine Conservation Society: Pocket Guide
ABC: Thanks For All the Fish

Hong Kong

WWF: Sustainable fish guides in English and Chinese and online fish ID guide


WWF: Seafood Guide (in Indonesian)

New Zealand

Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society: Best Fish Guide


South Africa 

The Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) offers a pocket guide, a database and an SMS service.

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1 comment

Thanks for the research! And p.s. sent you an email :)



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