Getting fish for our sushi class was one of the challenges especially because we were not a restaurant and we did not do events every day. We couldn’t place large orders of fish and some of the big fish companies required us to order a whole fish weighing five to ten pounds, while many times, we just needed a couple of pounds. When I was working at Hecho, the sushi chef, Sachi-san suggested ABS Seafood, so I went there and got some fish like Tuna, Walu, Salmon, Ocean Trout, Shrimp, Kampachi, Tai Snapper and fish from Japan in the beginning. Because ABS is such a big fish company, I couldn’t just order half fillet of Salmon and had to order a whole fillet. That was then I thought about going to Monterey Fish Market. I remembered when my chef Friend Eric took me there for his private dinner. We got there wholesale location in Pier 33 at 10 AM. Eric told me about this Japanese Sushi Chef named Ted (no one knew his real name) would be there and when we got there, sure enough, Ted was there, eating Ceviche for breakfast with all the staff at Monterey Fish. Later I learned that Ted was running a now-closed sushi bar called Hama-Ko in Cole Valley. Ted was funny man, making interesting remarks and jokes, laughing all the time.
I rode my bicycle to Monterey Fish Market in Pier 33 to meet with Tom to discuss getting some fish for my sushi class. Their retail store is in Berkeley, and the wholesale operation was out of Pier 33 warehouse. I mentioned him about my visit with Eric and Tom told me he knew Eric. He gave me a price list and also, put me on their daily email list. The price list had how and where the fish was caught and that was when I remembered Eric talking something about Seafood Watch Guide by Monterey Bay Aquarium. Until then, I forgot about Sustainable Seafood. Eric also mentioned about these guys at Monterey Fish Market helped to create the Seafood Watch Guide with Monterey Bay Aquarium. (The founder of Monterey Fish Market, Paul Johnson was a board member of Seafood Watch Guide.) That was when I started to think about using only Sustainable Fish, because, why not use something that is good for the environment. It would be challenging and if we could only use sustainable fish, that would be a good sales point for our business.
I went home and looked at the price list, and marked the fish we could use and compared with Seafood Watch Guide to see if they were sustainable. Beloved Hamachi/Yellowtail from Japan were all “Avoid” list, so they were out. Many farmed Salmon and wild caught salmon were also out, but local and some from Washington were OK. Tuna from Hawaii and California were OK and so were Shrimp from Gulf. I paid more for sustainable fish especially for Shrimp and Crab.
We used to buy Blue Crab by Chicken of the Sea, at Trader Joe’s. You can find them at the refrigerated section, right next to smoked salmon. This Blue Crab from Mexico in a can made excellent California Roll when mixed with Mayo, Lemon Juice, Soy Sauce and Black Pepper. I saw the sign on the can that said, “Committed to Sustainability,” so I kept using it thinking it was sustainable, until I found out that their guidelines were different from the ones by Seafood Watch Guide, thus, non-sustainable according to Monterey Bay Aquarium. So we switched to Dungeness crab from Washington and California, which cost us three times more. There were many times, when I thought about using non-sustainable fish, thinking, just for once, no one would notice it. But, the bottom line is that I would know and that is a broken promise to myself, so even if it meant costing us more, I stuck to buying sustainable fish because that is what I decided to commit and I can say now that I am glad I made that choice.
So, it turned out that we are the first and only sustainable sushi class company in the US and the whole world! It is true that there are many sustainable sushi restaurants in the US and around the world and by accident, it so happened that we are the only ones doing what we are doing so far.
Our position in using sustainable fish is, never to force anyone to use sustainable fish. We just want people to recognize that it is a choice available for them make, should they decide to do so. If not, we hold nothing against them. Using local and sustainable fish makes sense to us because fish tastes the best when in season and caught locally.