Last month I had the pleasure of dining at Mashiko, Seattle’s first 100% sustainable sushi bar. It was the first time I’ve had sushi in over a year. I usually skip it because it’s too hard to find sustainable options and too tempting to pick non-sustainable ones. But this was a very different experience. At Mashiko, there was no risk of ordering bad-for-the-oceans options because they aren’t on the menu.
Mashiko opened in 1994 and started serving only sustainable seafood in 2009. It’s not always easy — sales dropped nearly 20% the first month after making the transition, and they lose diners who are looking for hon maguro (bluefin tuna) or unagi (freshwater eel) practically every week — but Chef Hajime Sato has never looked back.
There’s a Fish2fork sticker on the door, but other than that, Mashiko isn’t certified by any consumer guides or eco-labels. Though, that has less to do with the seafood he serves and everything to do with the politics of certification (which we’ll probably explore in a later article).
But, to ensure that all of his seafood is sourced sustainably, Hajime does all of the ordering for the restaurant himself and has developed a personal relationship with each of his suppliers. The menu changes frequently based not just on what’s in season, but what’s available that week or that day.
When it comes to defining sustainability, Hajime says the first step is eliminating waste. That alone is a big task, as we recently learned that about 47% (2.3 billion pounds) of edible seafood in the U.S. is wasted every year. And that’s after the seafood is landed and processed. Much more is lost before that in the during processing and at sea — approximately 573 million pounds are lost as bycatch every year.
Beyond wastefulness, Hajime looks for traceability, the status of the overall population, and the fishing methods and gear type used to catch each particular species.
For one of the best examples of all three of these concerns, let’s talk about octopus. Mashiko serves Amaebi (spot prawns) which are caught in traps (gear type: check). Stocks are highly managed (population status: check), and Mashiko serves prawns from the same fishery (traceability: check). But, occasionally those fishermen will pull up their traps and find an octopus. Ordinarily, that octopus would be trash, since most people buying spot prawns aren’t looking for octopus, but not here. Hajime started buying those bycaught octopuses (eliminating waste: check) and using them in a fabulous salad with blanched greens, walnuts, and a miso-peanut dressing.
When it comes to farmed fish, Hajime’s standards are no less strict. He purchases farmed seafood from operations that are antibiotic-free, provide quality feed, and take “great care not to disturb the surrounding environment”.
Overall, the food is great, the experience dining at the bar is fantastic, and it’s a relief to be able to order anything off the menu without worry.
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Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.