Monterey Bay Aquarium: Saving Oceans One Fish at a Time

The jellyfish tanks are a highlight at the ocean-friendly Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

For California vacationers, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the place to see exotic fish and sea creatures. However, the Aquarium is also dedicated to educating people about environmental issues that threaten ocean creatures. And its Seafood Watch program helps the seafood-loving consumers make wise seafood choices.

Among the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s highlights are the Kelp Forest exhibit, playful sea otters, giant tunas and barracudas (go at lunchtime to witness a feeding frenzy!), and the mysterious giant octopus whose tentacles move more gracefully than ballerinas. Also worth checking out are cute black-footed penguins, jellyfish that drift in the currents, and the Touching Pool, where you can place your hands in the water and brush your fingertips over the silky wings of stingrays gliding around the tank.

My favorite octopus, Monterey Bay Aquarium

These incredible marine life forms are so diverse and enthralling that it’s inconceivable to think of them disappearing. So it’s encouraging that the Aquarium teaches about ocean conservation.

Every year, 80,000 school children visit and learn about why they shouldn’t eat swordfish (the fishing lines entangle endangered sea turtles) or Atlantic cod (it’s dangerously overfished). The kids take home a handy Seafood Watch Pocket Guide, which lists the best and least sustainable choices of seafood at supermarkets and restaurants.

Watching Out for Oceans

The Monterey Bay Aquarium raises and explains issues pertaining to choosing and eating fish:

Overfishing: Fish such as orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna are threatened due to over-zealous fishing. Seafood Watch estimates that more than 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are either fished to capacity or overfished.

Farmed vs. wild-caught: Some aquaculture methods, including salmon farming, produce concentrated fecal waste that pollutes surrounding waters.

Method of fishing: If fish is caught wild, methods such as trawl nets, dredging and traps kill other species. The most famous example was dolphins being caught in tuna nets.

Human health: Toxic mercury content of seafood is a disturbing health problem, although fortunately some fish contain less mercury than others. (Swordfish, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel are especially high in mercury and should be avoided.)

Fortunately, according to Seafood Watch, we can make a difference by supporting fisheries and fish farms that are better for the environment, while passing on others that aren’t doing as well.

The Kelp Forest, Monterey Bay Aquarium

SeafoodWatch.org has a downloadable seafood guide listing fish according to their level of endangerment. You can also download a smart phone app that brings you up-to-date recommendations for restaurants and markets that serve ocean-friendly seafood and sushi.

Cooking for Solutions

Love to eat seafood? Cooking for Solutions—a celebration of fine food and wine produced in ways that preserve the health of the soil, water and ocean—is held each May at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. Celebrity chefs demonstrate ways to cook sustainably.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read my post about Passionfish, a sustainable seafood restaurant near the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

Photos courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium

Delicious Dining at Local Ocean Seafoods, Newport, Oregon

Seafood is a delicacy, yet I seldom eat it because I worry so much about the problem of overfished oceans. Luckily, Local Ocean Seafoods in Newport, Oregon, gave Ken and I the opportunity to satisfy our seafood cravings without guilt.

Local Ocean serves fresh, sustainably fished seafood almost exclusively from the Oregon Coast. The restaurant’s owners and chefs stay within the “Green Light” or “Yellow Light” parameters determined by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch list. (The majority of the fare is Green Light). You won’t find any endangered or at-risk fish on the menu here, which eases my mind.

Taste of the Sea

Lucky for me, we were visiting Oregon in January, during crab season. For dinner, I chose half a Dungeness crab served with herb/garlic butter. If you’ve ever watched sea otters banging shellfish open on rocks, you know how I felt cracking open those crab legs. Once I got some of that sweet meat, I knew it was worth the labor. How fresh was the crab? Owner Laura Anderson knows the fisherman who hauled my Dungeness from the water around noon that same day.

Dungeness crab at Local Ocean Seafoods was taken from Oregon waters just hours before I ate it. I enjoyed a glass of organic pinot noir from Sokol-Blosser vineyards, only 100 miles away from Newport, Oregon.

I also selected a side of fennel slaw, made with cabbage and fennel (both tasty in-season winter vegetables) and seasoned with vinegar and olive oil. It was light and lively on our palates—with not a speck of mayo in sight!

Ken started with the Garlic and Dungeness Crab soup—the perfect alternative to clam chowder. He followed with Local Ocean’s famous fish tacos, made with local lingcod wrapped in a tortilla with fresh cilantro.

Local Ocean also sells the catch of the day if you'd like to cook at home.

All this fresh-from-the-ocean fare is served in an earth-conscious and budget-friendly location—an old warehouse with painted cinderblock, concrete floors and with the retractable wall and windows so that it opens in summertime right to the Newport Bay. Local Ocean has a no-fuss atmosphere, and the prices are affordable.

More Good Eats at the Oregon Coast Aquarium

By the way, if you’re visiting the terrific Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport (and I highly recommend you do!), say “hi” to my buddies the sea otters.

And if you’ve worked up an appetite watching surreal jellyfish, the mysterious octopus, tufted puffins “flying” underwater, and the open-sea shark tank, swim on over to the dining area, which is also a Local Ocean location! It brings local, sustainable full circle when you admire the beauty of ocean animals and then eat in a way that protects endangered species.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor