Food Network star helps save fish

photo Food Network star Alton Brown, left, visits the Tennessee Aquarium. Photo by Philip Slowiak

IF YOU GOWhat: Serve and Protect dinner and cooking demonstration with Alton BrownWhere: Tennessee Aquarium IMAX theater and aquariumWhen: 5:30 p.m. Sept. 22Admission: $150Phone: 800-262-0695Website:

Salmon or snapper? Tuna or catfish? Swordfish or mackerel?

Given these choices on a restaurant menu, which would you select?

The strong inclinations of fish eaters to select only a few specific types of fish have contributed to the depletion of the ocean's resources, some say.

"For years we've assumed the oceans are limitless and, in reality, that's not true," said Anna George, director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. "The number of fish in the oceans and the size of fish in the oceans has been shrinking for the past 50 years. This is in large part due to what we eat."

To help combat the problem, the Tennessee Aquarium is introducing Serve and Protect, an educational initiative about sustainable seafood. The aquarium is working in conjunction with eight local restaurants -- Easy Bistro, 212 Market, St. John's, Hennen's, Bluewater Grille, Table 2, Broad Street Grille and Porters -- to help Chattanooga-area residents understand what they can do to help preserve ocean life.

Also working with the aquarium is Food Network star Alton Brown, a self-proclaimed "amateur oceanographer-type." Brown will make a media appearance Monday at the aquarium and will return again in September for a cooking demonstration and seafood dinner.

"I was raised on a steady diet of Jacques Cousteau and Julia Child," he said. "I'm concerned with the issues of stewardship, with the fact that we run the planet's resources and how we manage those."

Sustainable seafood is essential to the oceans, the food industry and, Brown pointed out, people who eat.

Thirty percent of all fished species have collapsed, said George.

"Of all the conservation challenges our world faces, overfishing is one we can do something about," she said.

A key to seafood and sea life sustainability is simple: Embrace eating different kinds of fish. Brown referred to the effort as "diversification of a portfolio."

"It is odd to me that we live in a culture that has more access to more different types of food than any culture at any time in history and yet we basically eat a very, very small selection of foods," he said. "This is most certainly highlighted in our seafood choices."

The problem is we want what is on our plate to look like it was always just food, he said. We do not want a whole fish that actually looks like, well, a fish.

"Get used to the fact that you're going to have to occasionally be looking at the face of something," he said. "Small fish have heads and faces. And faces have eyes. And they're going to be looking at you."

The aquarium is involved in the effort from an educational standpoint and is not cultivating fish to go to restaurants.

"We're not trying to sell anything from the aquarium for people to eat," George specified. "We want you to come to the aquarium and learn a little more about the problems in the oceans and how you can change things, and then hopefully be inspired to go home and try something new."

This year, they are focusing on five fish, two of which are local -- farm-raised rainbow trout and catfish. The other three, all ocean-caught fish, are oysters, yellowtail snapper and American lobster.

Focusing on American-caught seafood is essential.

"The one thing we really want people to start doing is ask where their fish comes from," said George. "It's a very simple way you can make a difference."

According to the National Resources Defense Council, the United States has stricter farming and fishing regulations than other parts of the world.

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