The brand recently partnered with Seafood Watch, making it the largest sushi chain to join the group.
Overfishing, failures in wildlife management practices, and increased consumption of seafood in recent decades have led to an unprecedented decline in wild fish populations.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently found that roughly one-third of the world’s fisheries are pushed beyond their biological limits.
Now advocates—many of whom are members of the full-service restaurant industry—are looking for a big change within the fishing industry, and it’s starting with a dedication to cleaner seafood sourcing.
Blue Sushi Sake Grill, an Omaha, Nebraska–based micro-chain under Flagship Restaurant Group, is among the restaurants leading the charge. In spring 2019, it joined the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, meaning the chain must make a significant commitment to sustainably sourcing its seafood. At 14 units, it is now the largest sushi chain in Seafood Watch.
Tony Gentile, corporate executive chef, founder, and owner of Flagship Restaurant Group, explained what this commitment means—both for Blue Sushi and the restaurant industry. After all, sustainable practices will become even more critical in the coming years.
Tell us about the lengths you go to responsibly source your seafood. How difficult is it?
When it comes to sourcing our fish, we try to source as many things that are eco-certified as possible. Without getting too technical, the Monterey Bay Aquarium recognizes eco-certifications for certain types of fish. If it is a long-line or a fisherman-caught fish, that is recognized by the Marine Stewardship Council (msc); if it’s an aquacultured fish, it’s recognized by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.
We’re able to trace these items from the moment they’re hatched, from the moment that they’re put into a pen. If they’re being shipped, they’re traced every spot they go all the way down to our vendors. Because of that chain of custody, we’re able to source [the fish] directly back to where it’s coming from.
If you go to our menu, we have some things that have a little blue fish icon next to them; those icons are a representation of the types of fish that carry some sort of eco-certification that’s recognized by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Some of our other fish come from single-source farms. I know my tuna is coming from Hawaii. I know the lady who is fishing it; I know the lady who owns the company. I have direct relationships with these people, and we’re talking monthly about what we’re up to and what’s going on.
Those are the two things we’ll continue to focus on over time: eco-certification that allows us to trace the product from its existence and relationships with single-source farms. I would say we do that with about 80 percent of our menu.
Could you give an example of a seafood dish or two? Where do those products come from?
One of my favorite dishes is a big-eye tuna tataki. Obviously that’s a big-eye tuna, from a long line caught in Hawaii. We like getting fish from Hawaii. Hawaii has some of the most regulated waters and strictest fishing regulations of any place in the world. It’s always a good feeling when you get fish from Hawaii.
Any one of our sashimi or nigiri—that’s raw fish—features some sort of responsibly sourced fish. We source an MSC-certified sea bass that’s from down in the Patagonia area. We slice it thin like sashimi, put spicy crab underneath it, and bake it.
What other sustainability initiatives can we expect from Blue Sushi Sake Grill in the future?
We’re about to roll out our second round of sourcing. There might be some things out there that are eco-certified and that’s good, but what we really want to take into consideration is the carbon footprint of those particular items. Although they might be responsibly sourced, there may be instances where we can move them closer to the U.S. So we’ve made some strides in that area.
We’ll be sourcing a blue crab from the Chesapeake Bay that will replace a crab we used to get from Myanmar, so that’s a win.
We’ll also be sourcing another crab from the Chesapeake Bay that will replace a crab from Nicaragua. Plus we’re going to bring in a green-rated (meaning it has very minimal impact on the Earth’s ecosystems) Hiramasa, or yellowtail kingfish, from the Netherlands. Those are some of the things we’re really looking forward to.