For the uninitiated, sustainable sushi is created when a seafood menu takes into account government regulations, environmental suggestions, and seasonality, reducing the negative impacts overfishing and misuse of seafood can have on the environment. While many upscale New York sushi restaurants emphasize importing fish from Japan, this is not the most sustainable or environmentally responsible way to consume sushi en masse.
Still, seafood sustainability is not a clear-cut standard. Organizations like Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch and Ocean Wise monitor the biomass of certain species of fish in the ocean, and seasonality remains an incredibly important factor. What is clear-cut is that the fish most diners associate with sushi restaurants are problematic. “When people go into a sushi restaurant, they want a tuna piece, a salmon piece, and a yellowtail piece,” Mayanoki co-founder David Torchiano says. “Those are always available, but unfortunately aren’t the most sustainable options.”
Tuna is direly overfished, and salmon is often farm-raised in harsh conditions, using antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides not exactly fit for human consumption. Concerns about mercury and higher concentrations of PCP in larger fish are reason enough to make you second-guess that $9.99 special of three spicy tuna rolls you get for lunch every week.
Of course, eating sustainably not only benefits our health, but that of the environment, too. “The health of the ocean is really important to the health of the overall climate. If we don’t take care of the ocean, there are going to be significant repercussions,” Torchiano says. “I think we’re seeing it already… If we start to overfish large predators like tuna, it’s not that they just disappear, the entire food chain collapses. There will be pretty significant consequences if we don’t live and choose to eat sustainably.”
Mayanoki (a name Torchiano and co-founder Josh Arak came up with one night while under the influence of, well, something) officially started in 2012, when the duo wanted to find a space for restaurant-less sushi chef Albert Tse, a skilled sushi master they met circa 2005 at TriBeCa’s Zutto. The fanboys wanted Tse to keep up his sushi momentum, and decided to build a pop-up just for him. Tse would eventually leave the project, but that wasn't the end for Mayanoki or its mission to get New Yorkers to care about where their fish comes from.