It doesn't mean doing without some of the freshest, local fish and shellfish out of South Carolina waters. Shrimp, blue crabs, flounder, grouper, mahi mahi and tuna are only a few of the sustainable seafoods abundant in the Palmetto State.
To prove just how delicious eating this way can be, the Sustainable Seafood Initiative hosts a dinner each month prepared by some of South Carolina's best chefs. At a recent dinner at Fish in Charleston, diners feasted on octopus Carpaccio, baked local clams, seared red porgy and flounder quenelle.
The fish Chef Nico Romo chose for the dinner were local and sustainable, which means they were caught or farmed in a way that ensures they'll be around for future generations.
The program is aimed at protecting and rebuilding the natural resources we have, said Shelley Dearhart, education programs instructor.
"Fish for the future" is the way Dearhart sums up the goal of the Sustainable Seafood Initiative.
"It's making sure that we can maintain this resource that we've relied on historically since the beginning of Charleston," she said, "and it's been such a part of our heart and soul."
The Initiative began in 2002, a collaboration of the South Carolina Aquarium, the South Carolina Seafood Alliance, the Coastal Conservation League, the Art Institute of Charleston, the Culinary Institute of Charleston, the University of South Carolina Baruch Institute and the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium. The groups partner with chefs, restaurants and seafood retailers.
Participating restaurants pledge to get local, sustainable seafood when possible and to not serve Chilean sea bass, orange roughy or imported shark.
Dearhart said Chilean sea bass is on the list of not sustainable seafoods because of concerns about whether stocks are rebuilding because of overfishing. Chilean sea bass, also known as Patagonian toothfish, is not a true sea bass, she said, and lives in Antarctic waters. (Black sea bass is a fine choice, she said.)
Orange roughy, also known by the appetizing name of slimehead, are slow to mature and not able to reproduce until they are from 20 to 30 years old.
While local shark populations are healthy, populations nationwide have been declining since the 1970s because of overfishing, she said. They are slow to reproduce.
The dinner at Fish began with octopus Carpaccio, a dish in which octopus is cooked and then shaped into a log and refrigerated for some time. It is served in thin slices, and Romo topped it with a Tabasco granita, a cold Tabasco Sauce mixture that added lots of zing to the octopus.
Next up were baked local clams with a Gruyere Bechamel sauce and cilantro. These delicious clams were supplied by Clammer Dave, Dave Berlanger, who has been farming clams for 10 years in the waters around Charleston.
While we feasted on his clams, Belanger spoke with great passion about his concern for the environment and the effects of development.
"The odds are building against us," he said. "I have seen a degradation of the environment that is just appalling."
Belanger buys seed clams and raises them on tidal land near Dewees Island and Capers Inlet. He also raises oysters, which he and his staff harvest, break into singles, then take back out into the ocean to get a "completely purged product" with no grit or sand.
The next course at the Sustainable Seafood dinner at Fish was seared red porgy and flounder quenelle, served on a bed of oyster mushrooms, corn and asparagus and a tomato ginger sauce.
The red porgy, which is such a tasty fish, is plentiful in South Carolina waters. Dearhart said the name meant fertilizer in Colonial days. It's also called pink snapper.
The flounder quenelles were amazing. This is a French dish where a dumpling is made from a fish and a dough mixture including breadcrumbs, eggs, flour, rice or cream. The dumplings are then poached in stock or water and then served in a sauce. The process sounds long, but it was excellent.
The Sustainable Seafood Initiative has been aimed mainly at chefs to make the biggest impact, Dearhart said. The restaurant partners are listed on the South Carolina Aquarium's website to encourage diners to support them. While the largest number of restaurant partners are in Charleston, they are spread throughout South Carolina. Sustainable Seafood dinners have been held recently in Columbia, and others are being planned for Columbia,Kiawah Island and Little River.
The Initiative also is trying to reach consumers to encourage them to ask questions about the fish offered at restaurants and know the best fish to buy.
"When you buy fish, ask where it's from," she said. "Know your source; be flexible; be open to trying new fish."
Buy local fish whenever possible to support the local economy and the fisherman who is also your neighbor.
Sometimes buying fresh sustainable fish might be a bit more expensive, she said, but in the long-term, it is worth paying for to ensure we have fish for the future.
"It's maintaining the economy and appreciating the ocean and appreciating the food on our plate," she said. "I hope this movement continues to grow and thrive."
Upcoming Sustainable Seafood dinners
Exact dates haven't been set for some dinners. Call the restaurant to verify and to make reservations.
August:Pane e Vino, Charleston
Sept. 6:Atlantic Room, Kiawah Island Golf Resort
Sept. 15:Fat Hen, Charleston
September:The Oak Table, Columbia
Oct. 12:Mingo Point Events, Kiawah Island
Oct. 26:The Parson's Table, Little River
October:Charleston Marriot Saffire
November:Cru Café, Charleston
December:Fleet Landing, Charleston