We take an excerpt from our Hong Kong and Macau's Best Restaurants 2012 to address the issue of eating sushi sensibly and sustainably

Last year, in the Hong Kong and Macau's Best Restaurants Guide 2011, we introduced the Responsible Seafood Guide in an effort to combine a love of fine dining with a responsible attitude towards our environment, and more importantly, our oceans with their fast-depleting fish stocks. The seafood guide was a success, and we were delighted to be informed that one of the restaurants in our Best Restaurants Guide had even photocopied it and put it up in their kitchen, as a reminder of which fish to serve.

This year, we decided to focus on one of Hong Kong’s most popular cuisines: sushi. Hong Kong is one of the major importers of Japanese produce and sushi restaurants, whether they are high-end hotel restaurants or cheaper sushi chains, dot our city.

And while we have been vocal about our distaste for endangered species such as the bluefin tuna and sharks, even asking our restaurants in this year’s guide to refrain from listing them as a signature dish and banning our reviewers from ordering them while writing a review on our behalf, there are lot of other fish in the sea whose sustainability is less black and white.

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To make it easier for diners who would like to do their own small part in preserving our oceans, this year, our Sushi Guide lists out the most common fish ordered at Japanese restaurants, along with their English and Japanese names, as well as the reasons why we should or should not be ordering these dishes.

A lot of fish served at sushi restaurants in Hong Kong are from Japan but Japan is one of the most opaque countries in terms of revealing their fish populations and stocks. Also, thanks to the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear scare in March 2011, many restaurants in Hong Kong have started sourcing their fish from elsewhere. Therefore, in our sushi guide, we have given indications where possible of the status of the fish species in Japan, as well as other countries it is likely the fish is imported from. While there are restaurants such as Kaetsu at the Grand Hyatt (whose sushi platter is pictured above) which commendably list where their seafood is sourced from, any quality restaurant should be able to tell you the provenance of their fish, so do the oceans a favour and don’t be afraid to ask.

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Mezzanine Floor, Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Crab (kani)

King crabs from Alaska come from well-managed stocks, and are therefore valid options. King crabs from Russia, on the other hand, come from critically low populations. Snow crab from Alaska and Canada are also from depleted stocks that are only now stabilising. Soft shell crabs (blue crabs) are mostly from Mexico and the US, both countries’ stocks are also depleted.

Should I order? Yes, if they are king crabs from Alaska. No, if they are snow crabs, soft shell crabs or king crabs from Russia.

Geoduck (mirugai)

A sustainable choice in general, this is a rare case where farmed versions are more sustainable as geoducks are filter-feeders, doing little damage to surrounding areas and the farms disrupt the wild populations of the species less.

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Should I order? Yes

Gizzard Shad (kohada)

There is not much information on the current health of gizzard shad stocks but it is somewhat protected by its rapid maturation and high reproductive rates.

Should I order? Yes

Horse Mackerel (aji)

Horse mackarel stocks are healthy in the US but less is known about stocks from elsewhere.

Should I order? Yes, if from the US.

Mackerel (saba)

Atlantic mackerel from Canada and the US are wild-caught and come from healthy stocks, while Spanish mackerel from the Atlantic are also from stable stocks. In sushi restaurants, they are mostly served gently marinated (shime saba) or if you're very lucky, completely raw (nama saba).

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Should I order? Yes

Octopus (tako)

Spanish octopus fisheries are well-managed and Japanese stocks are protected to some degree. Avoid octopus from Vietnam as the fisheries are unregulated and stocks are suffering as a result.

Should I order? Yes, if from Spain or Japan. No, if they are from Vietnam.

River Eel (unagi)

Most unagi are farmed and eat twice their weight in caught fish. Eel farms also often collect young eels from the wild to raise, stressing the already low wild population.

Should I order? No

Salmon (sake)

In the case of salmon, it really depends on the method more than the dish. Farmed salmon is one of the worst examples of fish farming as the large fish not only require a lot of feed to grow, but also pollutes its surrouding areas due to the concentrated amount of feaces and parasites. Salmon from Alaska, on the other hand, which are caught by purse seine and troll however, are a good option, as the Alaskan salmon fisheries are among the world’s most pristine and well-managed.

Should I order? Only Alaskan caught salmon. Avoid all farmed salmon.

Sardine (iwashi)

Atlantic sardines from the Mediterranean come from populations that are ineffectively managed and overfished. A much better option are wild-caught Pacific sardines which come from abundant and well-managed stocks.

Should I order? Only Pacific sardines, avoid Atlantic sardines from the Mediterranean

Salmon Roe (ikura)

See the entry for Salmon

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Should I order? Yes, if from Alaska

Scallop (hotatagai)

Like all filter feeders, scallops are a good choice as scallop farms improve the water quality in which they live. Off-bottom (harvested by hand) scallops are preferable to on bottom (dredged with a net).

Should I order? Yes

Sea Eel (anago)

A better choice than unagi, sea eels are still raised in farms with all the attendant problems with mariculture and population stocks are not known.

Should I order? No

Sea Urchin (uni)

Uni are generally abundant but the best choice is Canadian sea urchin as that is the area with the healthiest population. There is little data on the state of Japanese sea urchin stocks.

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Should I order? Yes if from Canada or Chile. Avoid ones from California

Snapper or Sea Bream (tai)

A tricky one as the name is a generic umbrella which could mean red porgy, red snapper or other types of snappers. Red porgy and red snappers are both overfished, especially if from the US. Stocks from parts are of Asia are in healthier condition but best avoided due to the murky definition of tai.

Should I order? Best not

Squid (ika)

A sustainable option as squid reach maturity within a year and reproduce in high numbers.

Should I order? Yes

Sweet Shrimp (ebi)

Try to go for shrimp from British Columbia, where the fisheries are well-managed and use environmentally-responsible traps.

Should I order? Yes, especially if from British Columbia

Tuna - yellowfin (maguro)

Atlantic stocks of the yellowfin tuna are the healthiest while Pacific and Indian Ocean stocks are heavily exploited and best avoided. On the whole, it is best avoided as it is on Greenpeace’s red list, meaning that while the fish is widely available, it contains a high risk of being unsustainably sourced.

Should I order? No

Tuna - bluefin (toro)

Dire population stocks in Pacific and Atlantic, even worse are farmed bluefin, which require twenty pounds of flesh to breed one pound of tuna. Tuna ranches also capture young wild juveniles to rear them, depleting wild populations even further. Avoid at all costs.

Should I order? Definitely not

Yellowtail (hamachi)

Most yellowtail come from fish farms in Japan and Australia and are best avoided.

Should I order? Only wild-caught ones

This is an excerpt from the Hong Kong and Macau's Best Restaurants 2012. For the full list of entries, pick up a copy at your nearest bookstore.

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