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James Beard Foundation, Twin Cities Seafood Eateries Strive For Sustainability

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- With all of our lakes, it's no surprise that Minnesotans have a special relationship with fish.

We love to catch them, but we also care maybe more than other states about protecting them, and not just our local fish. More Minnesota restaurants have signed up for a program highlighting sustainable fish than any other state.

Before Shane Oporto fires a beautiful fish filet at St. Paul's Octo Fishbar, or Josh Nelson unwraps a delivery at Almanac Fish, fish arriving in Minnesota make their first stop at a bustling warehouse in St. Louis Park.

Chef Tim McKee, vice president with The Fish Guys, is among those trying to get restaurants to use more sustainable fish. He's been interested in preserving the fish population since he created Sea Change restaurant at the Guthrie Theatre and Masu Sushi in Minneapolis.

"Doing the right thing isn't always the cheapest thing," he said. "Sustainable means they're from well-managed fisheries or farms, that really take into consideration the fish populations, and the fishing practices, as well as their effect on the environment."

McKee acknowledged, for consumers and for chefs, this can be complicated. Fish that were sustainable a decade ago, might be in jeopardy today. So he is getting restaurants signed up for a program called Smart Catch. Chefs created it with the James Beard Foundation.

"It matters because the fish populations are having a hard time, and if they're not well-managed, there won't be a fish population," McKee said.

Minnesota has more than 70 restaurants committed to having their menus analyzed, and are working towards getting rid of fish deemed not sustainable. Almanac, The Bachelor Farmer, Bacio, Costa Blanca, Cru and Eli's East are among the restaurants that are committed.

Octo Fish Bar is a "Smart Catch leader." which means the chefs use very flavorful and less commonly used fish -- the golden tile fish, for instance. OCTO is the only Minnesota restaurant to be categorized as a leader, already with at least 80 percent of the menu considered "sustainable." The idea is to get chefs to think beyond shrimp, salmon and walleye.

"The Fish Guys are in 400 restaurants every day. We're having these conversations," McKee said.

Everyone plays a part, from restaurants to fish markets to grocery stores. But with an award-winning chef like McKee banging the drum, it's no surprise this fish-loving state is working to keep the fish alive.

"It's impressive to me that we have so much momentum with the 'Smart Catch' effort," McKee said.

Shrimp comes from a part of the world that often has questionable fishing practices. But if you see the "Smart Catch" seal, you know the restaurant is working towards doing the right thing.

OCTO Fishbar and Almanac Fish
289 5th Street East
St. Paul, MN

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