All About Food: What do you know about the fish you eat?

Whitewashing: glossing over or covering up vices, crimes, scandals or to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data.

Greenwashing: the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly.

Bluewashing: the accusation that some purveyors of fish are making misleading claims as to the "eco-credentials" of their wares.

As if it's not difficult enough to figure out what is safe to eat lately, we now have to contend with misrepresentation of so-called facts about the sustainability and healthfulness of comestible fish. We hadn't even heard of "greenwashing" when the term "bluewashing" was coined. It appears that we not only have to figure out which fish are okay to eat and which are not, based on marketing claims; now we have to know which marketers are lying to us or at least providing us with incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information. To really know if a fish is healthy and sustainable, you would have to know the species, the location of its capture and the fishing or farming method used. At this point, labels don't tell us what we need to know.

One example of this is that in the United States, frozen filets and canned fish are only required to list the country of processing but not the actual source of the fish. Another example is the controversy about farmed versus wild salmon. Salmon farmers claim that their fish contains more omega-3s than wild salmon, so its healthier, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch says to avoid salmon unless it is farmed in enclosed inland tanks. (That labeling has yet to appear.) The Seafood Watch claims that pesticides and antibiotics that some salmon farmers use remain in the fish.

One guideline is to eat non-fish-eating fish or smaller fish because their shorter lives mean they have less time to pick up toxins.

In an eco-conscious world, "sustainable" and "green" are buzzwords that sell, but there are no strict definitions for either. There is ample wiggle room to cash in on the new consciousness. Some think that "sustainable" refers to food raised with minimal environmental impact, while others suggest it is food sourced from local family farms.

One of the ways to be sure of what you're getting here in South Orange County is to shop for fish and seafood at your local farmer's market. In Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa, as well as 23 other areas, Drydock Fish Company is the purveyor. Mark Lewis has been in business for more than 20 years and is very conscious of sustainability and healthfulness. He processes all of his products in his own plant in Fullerton. Drydock depurates all its seafood, removing sand and using blue light to remove bacteria. It smokes all of the fish and seafood it doesn't sell. Mark fishes for black cod on the far side of Catalina and swordfish, ahi, yellowtail and shrimp near Santa Barbara, and farms his own oysters, clams and mussels near San Diego. He has his own people in Alaska and New Zealand who fish for him as well.

At the farmer's market in Laguna Beach, Sam's the man. His real name is Adam Halaby and even he doesn't know why he's called Sam. Lately, his son Adam has taken over the business but promises that Sam will be back soon. One of the services he offers is to reserve your fish if you don't or can't manage to get to the market early enough on Saturday mornings before they sell out. Call him at (818) 266-3654.

A new small farmer's market has just opened on the Balboa Peninsula, in the street on Via Oporto, every Sunday. The Bear Flag Fish Company, which has a retail outlet and restaurant on 31st Street, now has a stand there. They are serious purveyors of ocean-friendly seafood.

As awareness heightens and consumers become more informed and demanding, we hope that labeling will be more specific and transparent, but until that time, ask questions!

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

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