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Invasive species on the menu

Bun Lai, chef-owner of Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut, came up with a creative solution to sustainable sourcing: he menus the very fish that are threatening the ecosystem. “Rather than using the most popular types of seafood for sushi, which are often caught or farmed in a way that is ecologically destructive, at Miya’s we choose to focus on invasive species because they are abundant and problematic,” he explains. “For example, there is no such thing as overfishing Asian carp or lionfish; they are highly destructive invasive species that need to be removed in order to restore the many habitats they have impacted.”

Lai and supplier partner Brendan Smith of Thimble Island Oyster Company have a hundred acres of shellfish certified grounds in Connecticut waters where they farm oysters, harvest seaweed and collect edible invasive species. Miya’s also works with several sustainable seafood suppliers to bring in fish from Mexico, Florida and other fishing grounds. But shrimp and tuna—two of the most popular sushi choices—never enter the kitchen.

So what species make it onto the menu? “Our most popular ingredient is an invasive seaweed called Codium Fragile that is used in our seaweed and roasted sesame miso soup,” says Lai. “My staff and I dive for it in our shellfishing grounds.” He also menus blue tilapia, European flat oysters, lionfish, periwinkles and shore crabs. The crabs, which have displaced native crab species, are collected by Lai during low tide, then deep fried and seasoned with lime juice, spices and sea salt and served on an ocean rock. “The entire dish is sculpted to look like the craggy shores of the Northeast where these crabs are found,” he says.

Miya’s also has a section of the menu called Sushi for the Masses. Everything is priced at $3.50 so it will be affordable to everyone. The secret? Lai uses sustainable farm-raised seafood that meets his high standards, including Icelandic arctic char, mussels and local oysters.

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