Introducing a Sustainable Seafood Program for Chefs (Finally)

The James Beard Foundation's Smart Catch program is designed by chefs, for chefs.

Navigating the world of sustainable seafood can sometimes feel like ambling across the ocean floor, without a flashlight, and with no air tank to boot. Consumers order and hope. Some chefs go to the effort of working with local fishermen and reputable suppliers. Others just can’t. They don’t have the time or know-how. Or maybe it’s a little bit of it everything.

On Monday, the James Beard Foundation launched a program that separates itself in one key way: it is designed by chefs, for chefs.

Smart Catch, which was revealed at the SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Seattle, aims to increase the sustainability of the seafood supply chain. The Foundation says more than 60 chefs representing more than 100 restaurants have already committed, including some of the mega-watt personalities. Among them:

  • Mario Batali’s Batali and Bastianich Hospitality group of restaurants
  • Michael Cimarusti’s Providence in Los Angeles
  • Renee Erickson’s Seattle restaurants
  • Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s Border Grill restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas
  • Bill Telepan and Oceana in New York City
  • Ryan Prewitt and Pesche in New Orleans
  • Hari Pulapaka’s Cress in Deland, Florida

“Chefs have the influence to educate our palates and our views,” says Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, in a statement. “Through Smart Catch, they are becoming new environmental heroes, as they use their influence to lead industry efforts to maintain healthy, sustainable food sources both now and for future generations.”

The program is centered on training and support, and it assists both parties in the end. A restaurant can earn a Smart Catch emblem, alerting consumers that their eatery of choice is not only serving healthy, fresh seafood, but that it’s arriving on the plate with actual concern for the environment. Chefs earn the emblem by committing to serve more than 80 percent sustainable seafood on their menus. Those who surpass the mark earn Smart Catch Leader status. Every restaurant in the program is provided with menu consultations, staff training materials, up-to-date online sustainability assessments through, marketing support, and guidance in working with their suppliers, the Foundation explains.

The data comes from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s renowned Seafood Watch Program and NOAA Fish Stock Sustainability Index.

“The criteria is based on wild and farmed seafood production and includes the health and abundance of fish stocks and impacts on the surrounding environment,” the Foundation says.

The Foundation also points out that more than 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are either fully fished or overfished.

“The future of the world’s oceans depends on all of us choosing sustainable seafood,” says James Deutsch, conservation director for Paul Allen, in a statement. “James Beard Foundation’s announcement of their national rollout of Smart Catch represents a giant step in that direction. We couldn’t be more proud of the continued growth of this pioneering program we piloted in Seattle.”

The program was developed by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen and piloted in Seattle in 2015. Nearly 50 chefs from 80 restaurants joined the program, including Renee Erickson, Ethan Stowell, Tom Douglas, Thierry Rautureau, and Brendan McGill.

The new national pilot is one of James Beard Foundation’s Impact Programs, which aim to establish a more sustainable food system through education, advocacy, and thought leadership. In addition to running Smart Catch, the historic James Beard House will also become a Smart Catch participant.