I love eating fish. And at my age, I will probably enjoy eating fish for the rest of my life. But will my children or my grandchildren have that same pleasure?
Most of the world’s waters are now either being fished to their limit or overfished. With the world’s population still growing and the amount of food that people consume also growing, we must dramatically alter our seafood buying habits.
Land farming has changed significantly over the last century. Thanks to scientific advancements, we have more than doubled the output per acre of many grains, fruits and vegetables. And we can produce much larger livestock in far less time.
Marine farming though is still in it’s infancy. Almost 50% of seafood must still come from the wild. And, until recently, there were little controls on what and where it was fished.
According to the Marine Conservation Society, “With 90% of world fish stocks fully- or over-exploited from fishing, plus pressure from climate change and pollution, we’re moving into dangerous waters when it comes to the fish of the future.”
I want to do something about it. I want my grandkids to have the same pleasures from seafood that I’ve had. But I find it really, really tough as a consumer to be responsible.
I buy my fish from two places, retailers and restaurants, and I’ve discovered that the only way I can be sure I’m eating responsibly-farmed or sustainable wild-caught seafood is to trust the people who are selling it to me.
For instance, I’m very fond of grouper (or mero as it’s called in Mexico) and grouper is considered one of the most endangered of all fish. The WWF says to only buy grouper from certified farms or fisheries but, if I see it on a supermarket counter or on a restaurant menu, how am I to know who or where it came from?
One San Miguel de Allende restaurant, Trazo 1810, however, is making it a lot easier. Trazo 1810 is currently undergoing certification by Buena Pesca (Good Fishing), an organization that sets guidelines to promote the responsible consumption of marine species in Mexico.
The last time I visited the restaurant, I was asking where Trazo 1810’s manager, Alonso Barragan, was.
“He’s just parking the car”, the server told me. A couple of minutes later, in walked Alonso and chef Paco González carrying a big white foam-core box.
Through the glass window to the kitchen I could see them cutting away the tape and opening the box. I had to move in for a closer look.
“It’s our shipment from the Gulf”, Alonso said, “come and see what’s inside.”
What was inside were about two dozen big white shrimp and about a two pound, rosy red snapper. I could smell the briny sea water. I knew right there and then that I would be ordering the catch of the day for my main.
I started with a marine animal that is not endangered and that I can eat without any guilt. Trazo 1870 grills their octopus to a gentle crisp on the outside with a tender chew on the inside.
The snapper…sorry, huachinango, forgot I was in Mexico…was being filleted beautifully by Paco Gonzalez. Wished I could do that I thought. Then I thought again. Better him than me.
The snapper came with skin on.
“The only way it should be served. It’s the best part”, said Don Day’s Wife.
“Only if it’s crisp”, I replied. And it was.
The catch of the day also comes with hollandaise sauce but, sensibly, on the side so the diner can make the choice. This time I said “si” and the lemon worked beautifully with the flaky pink flesh.
Don Day’s Wife ordered a Trazo favorite of ours (and it’s big enough to share). Usually, the shrimp risotto comes with fennel, asparagus parmesan and some carefully cleaned, medium size shrimp. This time it was also topped with one of the just-arrived camarones grandes still in its shell.
A few days after our dinner, I was back for a wine tasting at Trazo 1810 and met Pete Markwardt, co-owner of the hotel and restaurant. He told me how Buena Pesca assigns a specific fisherman to each restaurant that is certified.
“We have our own guy in Veracruz, Jose Sanchez. Whatever he catches, we cook”, said Pete. “The chefs have to be ready for surprises and ready for spontaneity.”
“Each time, a box arrives at the restaurant, it’s like Christmas”, continued Pete. “We get very excited about it.”
Trazo 1810 has hardly solved all of my seafood selection problems. I’m still almost totally bewildered at Mexican markets and supermarkets. But if we keep asking questions at the shops where we buy fish and the restaurants where we eat it, I think we’ll get more answers. Hopefully in time for my grandchildren to share in the pleasures for all of their lives.
Trazo 1810 is located at Hidalgo 8 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm, Sunday to Thursday and 8:00 am to 11:00 pm, Friday and Saturday.