By Phaedra Cook
Monday, April 4, 2016 7 a.m.
It would seem logical that because of higher transportation costs, imported fish and shrimp would be more costly than local. As with many imported goods, though, that's often not the case. Regarding imported seafood, the reasons why is it often cheaper than domestic are both disgusting and disturbing.
It’s a fair assumption that the following assertions are not universally applicable, especially to countries revered for high-quality seafood, such as Japan. However, the aquaculture practices in some countries are horrific.
In 2012, a Business Insider report compiled the findings of investigations by both Bloomberg and Mother Jones on the Asian fish and shrimp industry. The reporters discovered several shortcuts used to keep prices low. The discoveries included tilapia farms that fed goose and pig manure to the fish, extensive use of antibiotics (a practice prohibited in the United States) and unsanitary processing conditions.
Worse, in December 2015, the Associated Press published the latest in an investigative series that sheds light on the Thai slave trade. Shrimp-peeling sheds use slaves — some of whom are small children — coerced under threats of violence to peel shrimp for 16 hours a day. Similarly, in a rare act of corporate self-policing, a Nestlé SA investigation discovered very similar conditions on Thai fishing boats for Myanmar and Burmese immigrants..
Imports of massive quantities of cheap seafood from other countries have just about driven American shrimpers and fishermen out of business. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, less than 10 percent of fish and shrimp sold in the United States comes from our own waters.
The key to supporting these domestic businesses is to check where seafood comes from before it is purchased. The United States Department of Agriculture requires that shrimp packaged for retail sale be labeled with the country of origin. The same goes for seafood counters. The signs in the case must be marked with that information.
When dining out, it’s harder to tell sometimes if a dish uses domestic or imported seafood, as the origin is not always disclosed on the menu. Most restaurants that sell domestic shrimp and seafood will proclaim that loudly and proudly. If the origin isn’t listed, chances are it’s not from a high-quality source.
Here is a list of restaurants in Houston that support American shrimpers and fishermen with their dollars. For the sake of convenience, the list is broken down by neighborhood, then alphabetically. The list is by no means complete or exhaustive. Add your favorite restaurants serving domestic seafood in the comments section below.
- Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith: The menu includes wild Texas shrimp, blue crab and Gulf fish.
- Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 3201 Louisiana: On the menu are Gulf oysters, both raw and grilled, Gulf flounder, striped bass, grouper and redfish.
- Izakaya, 318 Gray: Despite the Japanese focus, chef Jean Philippe-Gaston says oysters here are exclusively from the Gulf and the shrimp is from legendary fishmonger Frixos Chrisinis at Blue Horizon.
- Prohibition Supperclub + Bar, 1008 Prairie: Chef Ben McPherson says that Prohibition also buys from Blue Horizon. The fish bought includes snapper, grouper, tilefish, amaco jacks, head-on shrimp and any available bycatch. Prohibition's oysters, served grilled and on the half-shell, come from Seafood Wholesalers and Living Water.
- Reef, 2600 Travis: Chef Bryan Caswell of Reef has long been at the forefront of championing local and domestic seafood. Among other accomplishments, the restaurant helped facilitate the return of Gulf appellation oysters. A recent selection includes oysters from Jean Lafitte and Crocket reefs off the Texas coast and from Sister Lake in Louisiana. Caswell says he sources from legendary fishmonger Jimmy Evans, who has sold Gulf seafood for over 20 years, as well as other suppliers.
- BLVD Seafood, 2804 Avenue R ½: Seafood here comes from local purveyor Katie’s Seafood Market. The vast majority of its inventory comes from local fishermen and shrimpers.
- Ocean Grille and Beach Bar, 1228 Seawall: Owner Bryan Davis says he's currently getting wild brown shrimp and oysters from Fisherman's Reef out of Beaumont. During the high season, he sources snapper, grouper and sometimes oysters from Katie's Seafood Market.
- Sonny’s, 1206 19th: All the seafood for this restaurant's dishes, including gumbo and the Shrimp Bun, comes from the Gulf.
- Bernadine’s, 1801 North Shepherd: Bernadine’s exclusively sells Gulf seafood.
- Coltivare, 3320 White Oak: The menu changes frequently, but Gulf shrimp is a regular feature.
- Down House, 1801 Yale: Dishes include Gulf snapper, shrimp and oysters.
- The Durham House, 1200 Durham: The charming restaurant in the former Woodrow’s location serves a wide variety of domestic seafood, including flounder, shrimp, two appellation-specific oysters and snapper based on availability. Durham House expects to offer small, cured, bycatch fish soon.
- Foreign Correspondents, 2231 South Main: This Northern Thai restaurant, helmed by well-known fishmonger P.J. Stoops, serves exclusively Gulf seafood.
- Harold’s In The Heights, 350 West 19th, Suite C3: Chef Antoine Ware says he sources from Katie’s Seafood Market in Galveston, including snapper, flounder and blue crab.
- Hunky Dory, 1801 North Shepherd: This British restaurant nonetheless selects most of its fish from the Gulf, especially snapper.
- Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella: All seafood here is domestic and includes Gulf shrimp and Maine lobster.
- Revival Market, 550 Heights: Seafood appears occasionally on a daily special, such as shrimp and grits. When it does, it’s always from the Gulf.
- Shade, 250 West 19th: Shrimp, crab and fish are all sourced from the Gulf.
- Southern Goods, 632 West 19th: The menu here is purposefully small, but features a daily special with Gulf fish.
- Canopy, 3939 Montrose: As with sister restaurant Shade (above), seafood primarily comes from the Gulf
- Danton’s Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen, 4611 Montrose: It's right in the name. Danton's has long been known for its many dishes featuring Gulf crab, shrimp and fish.
- The Hay Merchant, 1100 Westheimer: There are only a few seafood dishes, but they currently include Gulf shrimp. Catfish will soon be on the menu.
- Pax Americana, 4319 Montrose: Chef Adam Dorris says he sources from artist Zach Moser’s Shrimp Boat Projects when his boat, FV Discovery, is running. Year-round, though, Dorris turns to Blue Horizon for a variety of wild and sustainable seafood.
- Underbelly, 1100 Westheimer: Underbelly’s theme is “The Story of Houston Food,” and it’s a story that wouldn’t be complete without Gulf seafood. Underbelly sources from Airline Seafood right here in Houston as well as from legendary Gulf coast fisherman Jimmy Evans.
- Helen Greek Food & Wine, 2429 Rice: Where else should a Greek restaurant get its fish and shrimp than from a fisherman named Frixos? Like many other restaurants on the list, Helen Greek Food & Wine sources from Chrisinis’s Blue Horizon Seafood.
- State of Grace, 3258 Westheimer: According to chef Bobby Matos, the king crab comes from Alaska and he’s also getting shrimp from Jimmy Evans. (Read more about the legendary fishmonger in the Underbelly description above.)
- Arnaldo Richards’ Picos, 3601 Kirby: According to Monica Richards, Picos serves exclusively Gulf seafood.
- Bramble, 2231 South Voss: The menu regularly features Gulf fish, shrimp and blue crab from local purveyor Blue Horizon, which sources wild, local and sustainable seafood.