Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Petrale Sole and Sand Dabs: Are They Sustainable Seafood?

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 2:46 PM

click to enlarge The Pacific sand dab: sustainable?
  • The Pacific sand dab: sustainable?

Part of today's SF Weekly cover story, "Go Fish," tries to find an answer to that very question. And we take issue with some of what's been purveyed lately as the conventional wisdom on what local fish you should be eating.

In February, San Francisco magazine made a splash with a lengthy story, "The New School of Fish," that examined restaurants' adherence to environmental standards in their choice of fish.

One of the aspects of the story that riled the fishermen and fishmongers to whom we spoke was the assertion that local groundfish, such as petrale sole and sand dabs, are harvested in a destructive way. The dominant commercial catch means for this fish is bottom trawling, or dragging a net across the ocean floor, which in some circumstances can cause damage to underwater habitat.

click to enlarge Petrale sole
  • Petrale sole
Yet in Northern California, trawling for sole and sand dabs takes place in sandy and muddy bottoms, which, while churned up by trawl nets, are not seriously damaged by the practice -- at least not more than they would be in, say, a winter storm.

You might expect fishermen and fishmongers to make this argument -- particularly since both species are popular among San Francisco seafood enthusiasts -- but scientists concur. As John McCosker, chairman of the Department of Aquatic Biology at the California Academy of Sciences, told us: "It's much quicker to recover, because you're not destroying substrate. That kind of fishing is sustainable, as long as you don't overfish."

We ended up including petrale sole and sand dabs on our own list of environmentally responsible choices of local fish. What say you, readers? Can we keep consuming the delicious flesh of these bottom-dwellers with a clean conscience?

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Peter Jamison

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