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Photograph by Robert Scheer

One Fish, Two Fish: A healthy seafood market depends on sound environmental policies.

Go Fish -- or Don't

Consumers and chefs can help endangered Chilean sea bass population recover

By Christina Waters

DOZENS OF RESTAURATEURS in the Bay Area recently united to "just say no" to offering Chilean sea bass on their menus.

Monterey Bay Aquarium's Ocean Conservation Seafood Watch page lists Chilean sea bass as one of the most endangered, overfished species and urges environmentally conscious consumers to just say "no." Slow-growing and very long-lived--the fish can live up to 50 years--it has been indiscriminately caught in its icy home waters off the coast of Patagonia.

According to the Aquarium's Seafood Watch site, heavy, unregulated fishing is wiping out this deep-ocean species. In 1998, the illegal catch was 10 times the legal catch, Seafood Watch contends. The Audubon Society seafood chart similarly warns that populations of Chilean sea bass have declined alarmingly over the past decade, driven by gourmet consumer demand.

Crow's Nest executive chef Jeff Westbrook doesn't serve Chilean sea bass.

"For one thing, because of the kind of restaurant we are, it just isn't a good value--Chilean sea bass is a pricey item. And also, ever since the Monterey Bay Aquarium issued its alert about Chilean sea bass being overfished and endangered, we no longer wanted to serve it."

Westbrook also doesn't serve Atlantic swordfish, because of other environmental issues involving concentrations of mercury.

Scott Cater, executive chef at Santa Cruz's Casablanca restaurant, admits that in the past few weeks since the Bay Area restaurant boycott of Chilean sea bass, "Sales have definitely fallen off." Casablanca, however, continues to offer the pricey fish, since, says Cater, "People love it."

Cater said he's heard rumors about illegal catches of Chilean sea bass due to lack of monitoring of international waters. But like many restaurateurs, he feels confident in the integrity of his distributors.

John Tara, wholesale manager for Stagnaro Brothers, is unruffled by Monterey Bay Aquarium warnings.

"They're making it harder and harder for us to do any fishing at all," he says. Tara, who deals with both local fishing boats and national distributors, says he's still buying Chilean sea bass. "The companies that we buy from provide letters of certification that they're being caught legally."

And while the veteran seafood buyer is in favor of regulation and conservative fishing harvests, he says, "We don't control the market."

And there's still a market for Chilean sea bass. You, the consumer, have the last word here.

Transformations

Kelly's won't be the only bright new idea popping up soon on the West Side (which has paid for some decent karma by enduring all that never-ending road work). Yes, the old Pete's Family Restaurant on Mission is in the process of being transformed into a Carpo's. The fab Carpo's concept of fast, decent food perfectly fits the old Pete's niche and will be a blessing to students and other West Siders in need of an alternative to KFC, McDonald's and Burger Thing. Longtime Carpo's manager Ralph Gonzales describes the renovation as "a complete facelift." Look for an opening in April.

All that action you've been noticing in the downtown Santa Cruz space formerly known as Pontiac Grill is because the Zoccolis are transforming the former '50s diner into ... a '50s diner! Look for a new menu, Russell Zoccoli told me last week, and a very spiffed up look for the theme eatery.

"It'll definitely look brand new," Zoccoli said of the new diner scheduled to open in early April. The name? Cruisers. And the family-owned and named Pasta House? "We're in the process of talking about what we want to do with it." Stay tuned.

Of Francese and Feasts

Product of the Week: "Home Bake" is a sensational spin on the old "bake-and-serve" idea. From Beckmann's comes this bag of Francese rolls that you take home and finish baking for seven to 10 minutes in your own oven. Voilà--light, perfect fragrant rolls that taste like home-baked, but are filled with the considerable expertise of the Beckmann's bakers. We're hopelessly devoted.

Gateway Gala: Don't even think about missing next week's Gateway School Auction wine tasting and dinner on Saturday (March 2) at the Cocoanut Grove. The auction of Chef Dinners-- celebrity chefs like Marc Westburg, Mimi Snowden, Kelly and Mark Sanchez and many more--is one of the very top events and begins at 8pm. But wine tasting starts at 5pm featuring the finest from Bernardus, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Burrell School, Chateau Julien, Cinnabar, David Bruce, Hallcrest Vineyards, Page Mill, Salamandre Wine Cellars, Silver Mountain Vineyards, Storrs, Thomas Fogarty and others. Dinner starts at 7pm, with live auction action at 8pm, and costs $90 per person for wines, music, entertainment, dinner and auction. Call the Auction Hotline at 423.0341, ext. 342, to reserve your place. And feast on the details at the website www.gatewaysc.org/auction/reserveinfo.html.

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From the February 27-March 6, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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