Fish are friends, not food.

If you’ve not seen Finding Nemo, you don’t know the hilarious scene where the sharks get together for something akin to Seafood Eaters Anonymous. “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine. If I am to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends, not food,” they state, with great earnestness. It all comes apart because, duh, they’re sharks, hello.

Fast forward to Fish Wednesday. Readers of my Nerd’s Eye View blog will know that Fish Wednesday happens pretty regularly around our house, if not quite weekly. About a month ago, I started wondering where my fish was coming from. I get my veggies from a CSA, why was I getting my fish from the Safeway? Was there a better way to buy fish and did it matter where it came from?

Also, hey, while I’m at it, I thought, this is a good story for a food magazine. I pitched it to an editor I’ve written for and she accepted the idea. A little research will go a long way and I’ll be able to sit down and write a nice 1200 word piece. It turns out these are very big questions, dammit. I have been hoping for a simple sort of answer, some easy rules that will assuage my conscience and keep a nice plate of fish in front of me. The whole thing is quite a bit more difficult than anticipated.

Last week we visited with Mike McDermid who runs the Ocean Wise program out of the Vancouver Aquarium. And this week, we spent some time with Mark Plunkett who’s the conservation guy at the Seattle Aquarium. While I certainly feel much more educated as a consumer, I don’t feel like I’ve come to any easy conclusions.

There are a couple of basic things I can put my hand on, and for now, they’ll have to do. Step away from the Tiger Prawns, sorry, but put the crustacean down. Don’t touch that Chilean Sea Bass, no matter how gorgeously it’s marinated in wasabi and sake. (Argh!) No Orange Roughy, no farmed Atlantic Salmon.

I have a ton more reading to do. I’d like to talk to the guy at the fish counter at our neighborhood “green” market, I’d like to get in touch with the folks that buy seafood for our neighborhood not so green market, and I need to spend some time on the Seafood Choices Alliance web site.

I told our kind host at the aquarium that I felt like the story was starting to unravel for me. It wasn’t so much that it’s coming apart, it’s just that I’ve opened the proverbial can of worms. (Heh. For fishing. Get it? Heh.) When you start to ask where your food comes from, you unleash a whole lot of other questions that you hadn’t previously anticipated.

I find it both fascinating and frustrating. Frustrating in that I feel I can’t just sit down and hammer out my tidy little essay about sustainable seafood. And fascinating in that the avenues to explore are unlimited. I’ve not yet been to an oyster farm, talked to a fisherman or a chef, visited a seafood distribution hub… Dammit, it’s just supposed to be Fish Wednesday, not a master’s thesis.

Give a woman a fish and she’ll cook it, photograph it, and serve it up on Fish Wednesday. Ask a woman about a fish and she’ll embark on a Hemingwayesque journey to find out where the fish came from, what impact eating that fish has on the environment, whether or not it’s okay to eat the fish in the first place, and any number of as of yet unasked questions.

You can tuna fish, but you can’t just ask about it and expect an easy answer. Stay, um, tuned.