07/08/2010 04:09 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Will Seafood Become A Delicacy? Jonathan Gold Weighs In

LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold and brother Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, joined Santa Monica Seafood VP Logan Kock and Providence chef Michael Cimarusti to discuss sustainably-sourced seafood. Zocalo Public Square hosted the event, called "Will Seafood Become A Delicacy?" at the Skirball Cultural Center last night, free to the general public.

For video and audio of the full event, visit Zocalo Public Square.

Will Seafood Become A Delicacy?

The inspiration for the topic came from something Chef Mark Peel said to Jonathan Gold fifteen years ago: "In 40 years, it will be as odd to eat wild fish as it is now to eat wild game." To explore the issue, Gold handpicked the panel to represent the stakeholders invested in sustainable seafood: biologists and activists (Mark Gold), wholesale suppliers (Logan Kock), restaurateurs (Michael Cimarusti), and consumers (the 300+ audience).

The panel bemoaned the difficulties of implementing a federal or statewide system for regulating local fisheries and imports. Both Mark Gold and Logan Kock serve as advisers to the California Ocean Protection Council, a group that is trying to create a certification standard for California fisheries. Both also seemed a little world-weary for it, and Mark Gold expressed frustration at the process: "it's almost like it was designed to create so much political in-fighting that it's been a real big problem." The complicated network of existing certifications and regulations became evident throughout the conversation, and the merits of MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), ACC (Aqua Culture Certification), and Monterey Bay Seafood Watch were debated with vigor. Seafood newbies in the audience shouted out, "What's that?" whenever a new acronym popped up, reminding the seafood nerds on the panel to slow down and explain themselves more.

Chef Michael Cimarusti emphasized several times that consumers held the ultimate power, even asking the audience at one point to "raise your hand and pledge against blue fin tuna" in sushi restaurants. On the other hand, Cimarusti explained that if Providence started only serving locally sourced squid and sardines, "we'd be in for it," emphasizing the relationship between what customers want and what chefs serve.

Logan Kock grimly pointed out that, like in the case of other disappearing resources, it will be the poor who suffer most from over-fishing. He described the future of seafood consumption as "taking from the poor nations. Those people [sustenance fishers] will suffer, but we will never, because we'll always be able to pay."

The audience pressed the panel to provide recommendations for seafood that is both sustainably sourced and has low levels of mercury. After much hemming and hawing, disclaiming any future developments and urging people to regularly check official certification websites, the group finally offered some advice: Halibut, Wild Alaskan King Salmon, and Black Cod. Jonathan Gold, of course, was asked where to eat: Providence, Kiriko Sushi Bar, and Water Grill.

Jonathan Gold writes for the LA Weekly as a food critic and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for his food reporting.

His brother Mark Gold started as a volunteer at Heal The Bay in 1986 while pursuing a doctorate degree in environmental science and engineering and has been its executive director since 1994.

Angeleno Magazine has just named Michael Cimarusti "Chef of the Year" for his work at the seafood restaurant Providence, and Logan Kock is Vice-President of Strategic Purchasing & Responsible Sourcing at Santa Monica Seafood, the largest seafood distributor in the Southwest.