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Sustainable Sushi: See The Video. But Don't Eat The Eel

Sushi seems like the perfect modern food: Light, healthful and available at seemingly every supermarket in the nation. But is it sustainable?

That's the question behind "The Story of Sushi," a new video that's been pulling a lot of clicks in the past week. Maybe that's because its adorable format, with tiny, handcrafted figures used to tell the tale, stands in stark contrast to its depressing message: Most of the sushi we snarf up is harvested using unsustainable methods.

The video is a marketing tool for Bamboo Sushi, a Portland, Ore., restaurant that bills itself as "the first certified, sustainable sushi restaurant in the world."

A claim like that is sure to get our journalistic antennae twitching here at The Salt. Bamboo Sushi is certainly not the only sushi joint that has gone sustainable in a big way. (Think Tataki in San Francisco and Mashiko in Seattle, for starters.)

And chefs who tend to cook fish before serving it are also working hard at sustainable sourcing. But claims of sustainability can be suspect, and it can be hard for restaurants to weigh conflicting standards from different sustainability organizations against supporting local fishing.

"I've been in the seafood business for 40 years," Jasper White, chef and partner of the Summer Shack restaurants, told the Boston Globe last week. "The whole thing about sustainability is that the more I learn, the more confused I get."

Still, the Bamboo Sushi folks do seem to be working with some of the big guns in seafood sustainability, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute.

And a quick glance at its menu reveals that Bamboo Sushi is steering away from some of the big no-nos in sustainable fishmongering, including farmed salmon, king crab, octopus, red snapper, bluefin tuna and eel. Instead, they're going for pole-caught maguro tuna and wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico.

Big-box stores like Costco and Trader Joe's are also trying to deliver on sustainable seafood, a pledge that should include the sushi counter as well.

But for those of us who eat our sushi from the neighborhood carryout, not from high-end restaurants, odds are that tasty raw fish comes with a less than palatable pedigree.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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