Marty's Market will sell only Watch list-approved seafood

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Pittsburghers are paying more attention to seafood. Penn Avenue Fish Co. is expanding its wholesale and retail business in the Strip District, and Fukuda in Bloomfield is filled with sushi fanatics late into the night. Now Marty's Market is jumping into the pond, casting its eye toward sustainability. Starting this past weekend, it is selling fresh seafood, but only sustainable types selected with the guidance of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Seafood Watch" list.

The Seafood Watch list was established in 1999 as a means to raise awareness of the globe's dwindling ocean fisheries. According to the organization's website, 85 percent of the world's fisheries are either fished to capacity or overfished. Items listed on the organization's Best Choices list are "abundant, well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways."

Marty's Market is the first Monterey Bay Aquarium business partner in the region, and only the second in the state; Villanova University Dining Services is the other one. "Seafood is a part of sustainability we don't normally talk about," says Marty's Programming Director Johanna Klotz, a graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program.

Because of the limitations imposed by the list -- species change with both the season and new data on the health of fisheries -- expect a steady rotation of choices. "It depends on what is available at the time. But it's a pretty big list, so we'll have a good amount to choose from," says the market's Executive Chef Steve Beachy.

The list is very specific. For example, cod caught off the northeastern coast of the United States is listed as "avoid," but cod fished by hook-and-line off Iceland or in the northeast Arctic Ocean is a "best choice."

The initial offerings were Fanny Bay oysters from British Columbia, Iceberg Select mussels from Newfoundland, and barramundi from a sustainability-focused aquafarm in Massachusetts.

"It shouldn't be a panic moment if you come in and we don't have something that you want," says Ms. Klotz. Instead, "It's an opportunity to have a conversation, and hopefully you'll come out with something new that you love."

According to Mr. Beachy, that opportunity starts by making sure the staff is up to speed. "There's daily training. Whenever I bring something in, we talk about where it's from and how are the best ways to use it," he says. He and his crew are happy to offer suggestions on how to prepare whatever is in stock.

And for customers who really want to take their education deeper, Ms. Klotz says that the market is partnering with the Carnegie Library to develop a monthly reading list that addresses issues of sustainability. Seafood and potatoes are in the spotlight for February; readers can choose from books selected for kids, cooks, historians, growers, and advocates. There also will be a screening at the market of Rupert Murray's 2009 documentary "The End of the Line" at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 26.

If you're thinking that all of this education goes a bit beyond the scope of a typical grocery store, that's by design. "It's a push to link everything together," says Ms. Klotz. "We're not just a market, or just a cafe, or a great event space. We want people to ask questions. We want people to be curious."


Hal B. Klein: thismanskitchen@gmail.com and on Twitter @ThisMansKitchen.

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