Pike Place Fish Market, best known for its fish-tossing tradition, is hoping to parlay its popularity with tourists into increased awareness of seafood sustainability issues.
The fishmonger this week announced its operations are now "100 percent sustainable," as certified by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Driver Chris Bell, who's allowed to use the fancy new title of "sustainability officer" when speaking with reporters, says Pike Place Fish Market began reconsidering buying practices after customers complained about the wild steelhead salmon in its display cases.
"Instead of being like 'We're going to sell what we're going to sell,' we started a dialogue," Bell recalls.
Over the past year, the company has purged all the red-listed fish from its inventory, switched to compostable bags, and replaced its conventional light bulbs with "little spiral bulbs."
"Even the fish we throw, we freeze them and send them to Woodland Park Zoo," Bell says.
But the final hurdle was ridding the store of Mexican shrimp, which Pike Place Fish Market had ordered by the pallet before embracing sustainability. Mexico's shrimp trawlers have been cited for catching sea turtles and accused of shrimping in protected areas. "We learned it was one of the worst things," says Bell, who characterizes the store's evolution as a learning experience for its 15 staffers.
Bell says Pike Place Fish Market now hopes to educate its customers, many of whom rarely confront the term "sustainability" at home. "We get people from Kansas, and the only fish they know is what's in a box from Van de Kamp's," Bell says. "We ask them to take a few minutes to educate themselves about what sustainability means."
If the seafood industry doesn't shift toward sustainability, Bell says, jobs like his are likely to disappear in coming decades. "A lot of the big fish on the Eastern shore are gone, and they're not coming back," he says. "In our industry, there's a lot of room for improvement."