In this 4th Annual Teach a Man to Fish event, I've begun a series of interviews called "Seven Questions for..." in order to introduce you to some of the top voices in the movement.
The second installment in the series "Seven Questions for..." introduces you to Casson Trenor.
Casson and his restaurant partners Kin Lui and Raymond Ho were nominated as the 2009 Time Magazine Heroes of the Environment for their opening of the first sustainable sushi restaurant, Tataki Sushi Bar. When he’s not working with the Tataki crew, he’s Senior Markets Campaigner for Greenpeace. He’s also the author of Sustainable Sushi and publishes the blog SustainableSushi.net.
I caught up with my friend and colleague Casson Trenor while he was in Boulder. Even though he was en route to his first cup of coffee on an early Saturday morning, he was sharp as ever.
1) How did you first become aware that your food choices make a difference?
Excellent question! Do you know I’ve never been asked that before? To be totally honest I’m not yet sure they totally do. One of the big reasons that I support Greenpeace and work for them is that it’s not really about the individual choices. I’m not totally sure that Joe Schmo really has an effect on the industry.
I think the impact comes from the guys that buy tens of thousands of lbs of seafood. At the buyer level, those are the ones whose decisions need to change. Conversely, as someone that has the responsibility of running a restaurant, and extrapolating the things I learn and talk about - I see that the choices I make at the restaurant level, those are ones within my responsibility. I we’re serving only sustainable seafood then the customer doesn’t have to worry about it.
2) What advice do you have for people just beginning to figure out sustainable seafood? Why should someone whose never thought about this bother?
This is a question I get all the time - depending on audience I get all the time.. someone who’s never thought about it before? If someone approaches me and says “hey I care, I want to make a difference” I answer one way. I don’t think that person is that common? There’s not that many people out there. It’s often more common that people are concerned about health, family, human health.
I guess, I’d say that I am not in the business of creating more environmentalists or converting more individual evangelists, but I am all about influencing the level of buyers whose impact is the step before the individual. The buyers for the supermarkets, for example.
3) How do you feel about Community Supported Fisheries?
All fisheries are community supported you have to look at the other side of the water community. The overall ecology which allows the fish to exist at levels that enable us to keep fishing. It’s community sustainability. Community is like a web, like pick-up sticks, the fish, the fishermen, the people, the community - they’re interdependent.
If the CSF programs shorten the distance between boat and throat, that’s good. The problem is that the industry hinges on trust. Always has, always will. Most of the population doesn't have the time or ability to vet or check that the fish caught and sold is traceable to a sustainable source, a healthy fishery. They may become trusted, but trustworthy is the question. We need to answer, to address the accountability, the traceability.
4) What do you think about efforts of retailers to improve their sustainable offerings?
Great - I think it’s great and we’ve seen a lot of positive change in recent times, directly with corporations. What I deal with in the corporate realm, it is progressing. We’ve seen incredible things in past year: Wegman’s issues the statement, Target discontinues farmed salmon...all incredibly good stuff.
5) What’s going on with bluefin tuna? Any good news on the global scale?
I wish. The Conservation Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, we had people there and we were hoping to get some solid plan to protect remnants of Biodiversity. We had hoped for a declaration of 40% protected marine reserves in the world’s oceans. What came out was a soft 10%. It remains to see how even this tiny amount will be implemented. It goes back to enforcement and accountability.
6) What’s your feeling about MSC certification?
Speaking as someone familiar with the perspective of Greenpeace: Seafood sustainability is vast. There’s room for all different pieces, and need for all pieces: wallet cards, certifications. etc. In its current form, I don’t feel that there’s acceptable certification for now. What would make it acceptable?
Groups are turning to it but Greenpeace has severe concerns about how it works and to whom it answers.
In our “Carting Away the Oceans” project MSC adherents selling red-list species - it makes no difference if they’re selling Chilean Sea bass with or without the MSC certification. Either store, the one selling Chilean Sea Bass with MSC certification and the one selling it without, both lose the same amount of points.
7) How is your latest restaurant? Tataki South? (Tataki South - bigger South 29 30th in SF on Church)
We’re pushing the envelope, eschewing the sushi-only focus (of the original Tataki Sushi Bar). With a full kitchen, we’re able to do cooked food. We’ll expand the menu. We’re aiming for fully local, sustainable vegetables, now at around 80% local. Moving to 100% is the goal. Fish is #1 priority but we’ll be expanding the offerings to local meats, too.
- See also: Seven Questions for Barton Seaver
- Hajime Sato of Mashiko Sushi Bar & Casson are off to Hokkaido (my Grandmother’s birthplace and home to some of the most amazing kombu and seafood) doing a 10 day modern sushi investigation. I hope to get a recipe for our round up before he goes. Stay tuned.