Seated at the sunny bar in Nettie's Crab Shack, Kenny Bolov orders a Guinness, the blackened trout BLT, and the day's special — pan-roasted Alaskan halibut. “It's like a bite of spring. It's delicious,” he tells owner Annette Yang. Bolov supplied the fish to her through TwoXSea, his sustainable seafood business, which is on the verge of a serious leap: moving its operations from Sausalito to Pier 45 next month.
“This industry is filled with little white lies,” Bolov says. His mission for his 2-year-old company — which he's been operating out of his Sausalito restaurant, Fish — is to provide Bay Area eateries with the most ethical product possible, without any of those lies. Typically, fish are brought ashore by one company, which then sells them to another, and then another, before they finally arrive at a restaurant's back door. If a chef voices questions about a product, Bolov explains, “The best that company can do is regurgitate what was told to them. The story can get changed as the fish goes down the pipeline.” He argues that the direct sale of the small, seasonal product list he's developed at TwoXSea is the only way to guarantee sustainability for every fish, every day.
His obsession with sustainability has earned Bolov a reputation as an extremist. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program publishes a seafood guide that is considered the national standard for judging whether a fish is fit to eat, and which ranks fish into three categories: “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives,” and “Avoid.” Originally, the “Good Alternatives” category was titled “Proceed with Caution,” and Bolov wishes the name had stuck.
“What Monterey does is take the fishermen that are doing it right, the fishermen that are doing it bad, lump them into one, and put them on [the 'Good Alternatives' list],” he argues. He believes the program needs to challenge restaurants to meet higher standards by scrutinizing fishermen's gear methods, bycatch, and aquaculture, as he does at TwoXSea.
But Bolov's insistence on elevating the widely accepted standard has alienated some who follow it; he's not sure all his neighbors will be celebrating when he opens for business on the pier. His methods demand that chefs limit their menus to a few, seasonal choices, and be willing to change if their preferred fish can't be sustainably caught on the day they want to serve it.
Regardless of which guidelines buyers choose to follow, Bolov places the impetus on them to save oceans from depletion. “The fish were there and now they're not. We did it. We were hungry and we wanted to be fed,” he says. He hopes conscientious diners will moralize with their money, guiding the industry towards more sustainable practices. “I put two kids on this planet,” Bolov explains. “I do it all for the better good of the people that are coming after me.”