The Safina Center

Close up: Grizzly bear catching salmon.Close up: Grizzly bear catching salmon.Photo taken by: Carl Safina

Ocean-Friendly Substitutes

Make the Switch!

It’s easy to substitute ocean-friendly seafood in your favorite recipes. We checked in with chef and sustainable seafood advocate, Barton Seaver, to get his take on sustainable and tasty alternatives.

Here’s a list of popular, yet unsustainably fished, favorites with their more ocean-friendly replacements.

OCEAN-FRIENDLY SUBSTITUTES

BLUEFIN TUNA: replace with pole or troll-caught Yellowfin tuna, Albacore tuna, Wahoo
Bluefin is the king of the sea. It is the fattiest, richest fish in the sea. Bluefin’s unique flavor contributes to its great appeal. However, we have eaten our way through this species’ ranks and have forfeited our ability to consume this fish. It is a taste that may be lost for many generations to come, maybe forever. However, in most preparations Bluefin can be substituted by pole or troll-caught Yellowfin tuna which, although not quite as elegant, is a great eating experience. For preparations such as grilled tuna, try to seek out pole or troll-caught Albacore or even the tuna cousin Wahoo.

ATLANTIC FARMED SALMON: replace with Wild Alaska Salmon
Substituting for farmed Atlantic Salmon is easy: look for the great quality salmon options from Alaska. All five species of Salmon from Alaska are great stand-ins for farmed salmon. Experiment with the different species to find the one that you like the best. King Salmon is the richest, Sockeye the gamiest, Coho the most balanced, Pink the lightest, and Chum is the most similar to farmed Atlantic Salmon in flavor.

IMPORTED SHRIMP: replace with Oregon Pink shrimp, Alaska shrimp species, or some U.S. farmed shrimp
There are some FANTASTIC shrimp out there that nearly no one knows about. Oregon Pink Shrimp are a delicious product that is very inexpensive and very convenient. Available all year round as a frozen product, these work well in soups, salads, cocktails, sandwiches, nearly every preparation you can imagine. They are smaller than the warm water shrimp but are clean and sweet in flavor and a real treat. Alaska coonstripe, northern and sidestripe shrimp, and spot prawns are all rated “green”. Coonstripe shrimp and spot praws are caught with pots/traps, unlike most shrimp which are caught with destructive bottom trawls. There are some farm raised shrimp options available from U.S. producers which are great eating. They are only a little more expensive and you can eat well knowing that you are supporting not only eco-friendly practices but also helping to create jobs for Americans.

ATLANTIC COD: replace with Pacific Cod, Pacific Ling Cod or Alaskan Walleye Pollock
Atlantic cod has a very similar cousin on the west coast called Pacific Cod which is nearly an identical stand-in for most recipes. The same flaky yet dense flesh cooks with the same distinctive flavor and responds well to the wide variety of cooking methods usually written for Atlantic cod. Also try Pacific Ling Cod or Alaskan Walleye Pollock as a substitute.

ATLANTIC HALIBUT: replace with Pacific Halibut
This is a no brainer–eat Pacific Halibut. The fish come from sustainably-managed populations ranging all along the west coast of the U.S. and Canada. It is nearly the same eating experience and is oftentimes less expensive and easier to find than its Atlantic brethren.

GROUPERS: replace with Striped Bass or farmed Barramundi (U.S.)
Instead of Grouper, try Striped Bass as it has a similar sweet flavor with a thick flaky fillet. It is great with a traditional ‘blackening’ spice on the grill and also takes very well to techniques such as beer-battered and sautéed for tacos as well. There are also a number of farmed options that work quite well as a replacement. Try farmed Barramundi from the U.S. This fish has a delicate skin and clean, sweet flavor very reminiscent of smaller groupers.

ORANGE ROUGHY: replace with U.S. farm raised Tilapia or U.S. farmed Catfish, Pacific Halibut
Orange Roughy is a meaty white-fleshed fish which can be replaced by a number of options. Good quality farm raised Tilapia from the U.S. is a great example. Try brining the Tilapia before cooking in order to really develop the flavor of the fish. If it’s slowly roasted with a pat of butter on top, most of your dinner guests might not ever know the difference. Also try U.S. farmed Catfish or Pacific Halibut as a great substitute.

FRESHWATER EEL: replace with Spanish Mackerel or American Lobster
Try Spanish Mackerel or American Lobster as a substitute for the dense fleshed Freshwater Eel. Both share a deep, rich flavor which pairs well with a preparation in which a sweetened sauce is used. Try glazing the mackerel fillet with a traditional hoisin-based sauce or a little lemon juice mixed with honey or maple syrup. For traditional Italian style dishes, the Mackerel braises equally as well as the Eel and is great when cooked slowly in white wine as part of a traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner around Christmas-time.

QUEEN CONCH: replace with mussels, clams, lobster
There are many options when it comes to conch. Depending on the recipe you are using Conch can be substituted for by mussels, clams, and even lobster. If you are making a ceviche-style preparation try using steamed and chilled mussels. If making fritters try using ground or chopped clams as a base. If you are making sautéed cutlets, then American lobster makes for a great ocean-friendly replacement.

CHILEAN SEA BASS (a.k.a. Patagonian Toothfish): replace with Alaskan Sablefish/Black Cod
Although management of some Chilean Sea Bass fisheries has improved, these fisheries remain highly controversial. Chilean Sea Bass is highly vulnerable to fishing and in some cases the fishing method may cause harm to important habitats and other wildlife. As a substitute, try Alaskan Sablefish. Also know as Black Cod, these fish share the same buttery rich flesh which can be cooked using almost any method. Sablefish is available year round and is quite a bit less expensive than Chilean Sea Bass. Sablefish comes from the very well managed fisheries in Alaska. 

ALBACORE TUNA: replace with pole or troll-caught Albacore, Wahoo, Mahimahi
Be sure to look for pole or troll-caught Albacore at the seafood counter. It is caught in a way that greatly reduces the environmental impact of the fishery. If pole or troll- caught Albacore is not available or you are unsure how it was caught, replace with U.S. Wahoo or Mahimahi. All of these fish are great on the grill and Tuna and Wahoo are great cooked to medium rare. When using Mahimahi as a replacement, be sure to cook it fully for the best flavor and texture.

BIGEYE TUNA: replace with pole or troll-caught Bigeye tuna, Yellowfin tuna, Albacore tuna, Wahoo
Look for pole or troll-caught BigeyeYellowfin or Albacore tuna or U.S. Wahoo at the seafood counter. All of these species are great on the grill and are best when cooked to medium rare.

OCTOPUS: replace with Argentine or Longfin Squid
In almost any situation Argentine or Longfin Squid can be a great substitute for Octopus. Squid however does not need nearly as much time to cook as Octopus. Squid does remarkably well with a quick grill or a minute under the broiler. It pairs well with the Mediterranean flavors often combined with octopus.

WEST COAST ROCKFISH: replace with Striped Bass, Pacific Halibut
Not to be confused with the regional East Coast name for Striped Bass, rockfish belong to a family of fish with over 60 species found along the West Coast. Striped bass does, however, provide a great substitute as it shares the same dense yet flaky characteristics with a robust flavor that stands up to strong spices. Also try Pacific Halibut as it cooks in about the same time and can be a good substitute for many of the rockfish species.

SNAPPERS: replace with U.S. farmed Barramundi
In recipes that call for Snapper, try “green” rated U.S. farmed Barramundi. It is a clean flavored sweet flesh fish that is nearly identical to Snapper in texture. U.S. farmed Barramundi is widely available and a good price for the quality of fish that it is. It works equally as well as a whole roasted preparation as it does cooked as fillets. It’s great in ceviches as well.

STEELHEAD: replace with Alaskan Salmon, Sockeye
It’s very easy to trade any of the Alaskan Salmon for Steelhead. All have the same characteristic rosy-orange flesh and unique salmon flavor. My favorite is probably Sockeye in that it matches the Steelhead in terms of the gamey intense flavor that people love.

 “One of the most important sustainable practices you can participate in is decreasing the portion of the protein in your meals. Eating larger quantities of vegetables and grains has an immediate, positive affect on both our ocean and our health. Eat delicious seafood often – just eat reasonable portions, combine it with copious quantities of fresh local vegetables, and support the fishermen and farmers who provide for our well-being.”  –Chef Barton Seaver