Passionfish Contact: Patti Parisi,
Director of Communications
(510) 593-5188




Oakland, CA - December, 2005

Bay Area Business Woman News
Getting the Dish on Fish

—By Janet Rhodes

Eating a fish that has come right from where you are is like eating a tomato grown in your own backyard,” remarked Martha Hopkins, author of InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook.

Hopkins, a resident of Texas, still recalls a dinner she ate in San Francisco’s Chinatown 15 years ago. She had fish — one that had been swimming in front of her in a tank in the middle of the restaurant.

“The waiter brought it over to our table. The fish was flopping around in a net,” she said. “A few minutes later, it was on my plate. In Texas, I’d never experienced anything like that.”

Hopkins, whose cookbook has sold 200,000 copies, mused about the inimitable pleasure of a seafood dinner. “In folklore, Aphrodite is said to have risen out of the ocean on a seashell. Fresh salt air mimics body smells. An aphrodisiac is all about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.”

But many people, especially women, have been denying themselves this gratification because of repeated warnings about toxins, contaminants, overfishing, and other environmental and health issues associated with seafood.

Just last month, San Francisco became the first city in the country to pass an ordinance requiring grocery stores and restaurants to post signs warning of mercury in seafood.

But avoiding fish is not necessary, according to Patti Parisi. Parisi cofounded Passionfish, an Oakland-based nonprofit promoting sustainable fisheries and aquaculture through public education and partnerships between business and conservation. Through exhibitions, live public forums, and educational events for children and adult consumers, Passionfish challenges standard assumptions. “Many people believe that seafood businesses want to destroy the ocean, that conservation people don’t want to eat seafood and want the seafood companies to go out of business,” Parisi said.

Passionfish brings together the best minds from both worlds to get past these misconceptions. “The ocean is dark and mysterious,” Parisi continued, and said that when she was growing up in Colorado, her “idea of the ocean was Jaws.” Adding that it is a challenge to protect species that are being overfished, Parisi remarked, “Most people just see a filet. They don't see the fish itself, its provenance. It's just a filet. And so it's tougher to relate to fish. They're not cute or cuddly -- if you knew you had a panda bear filet or mountain gorilla steak on your plate, you'd be outraged.”

She emphasized that people should eat fish and shopping with discernment does not have to be complicated. The aim of her nonprofit, a project of the San Francisco-based Tides Center, is to get the word out, especially to women, about the value of fish.

“There is so much fear out there,” said Parisi as she listed the public’s main concerns: the worry about mercury, especially for women who are pregnant, lactating, or of childbearing age; fishing methods that endanger the environment; and finally the hesitation to prepare fish and serve it to guests because we believe that there is something complicated about it.

Fish, Mercury, and Women

“Virtually all fish contain mercury, but most fish are very safe to eat,” said Parisi who has worked as a science writer for several organizations, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University, and the University of California’s statewide Natural Reserve System.

The dilemma faced by pregnant women is that developing embryos are the most susceptible to the ill effects of mercury. Fetuses are five to 10 times more sensitive than adults. But completely cutting fish out of one’s diet is unwise because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the healthy development of brain, retina, and nervous tissue in the fetus and growing infant. The omega-3s are not found naturally in other foods, and our bodies cannot make them from other fats.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise that children and women who are pregnant, nursing, or may become pregnant avoid some types of fish, while eating others that are low in mercury. They advise avoiding swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and fresh/frozen tuna if pregnant, nursing, or planning a pregnancy. Meanwhile, at least twice per week, eat those fish highest in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, trout, anchovies, mackerel and sardines.

Demystifying Seafood

Knowing what types of fish are healthy, which types to avoid, and how to cook them should not be complicated. To demystify seafood cooking, Passionfish is creating a cookbook that will bear its name. Passionfish!, described by Parisi as “a cookbook with a conscience,” will show the consumer a huge variety of fish that are healthy for them and caught in ways that do not harm the ocean environment.

Parisi drew her inspiration for the cookbook from several sources, including Hopkins’s InterCourses. “Passionfish! celebrates seafood,” Parisi said, “from the ocean to the plate, rekindling the sense of wonder and awakening all five senses.”

To raise money for the publication of its cookbook, Passionfish will hold cooking demonstrations, fish dinners, and other events. By self-publishing the cookbook, Passionfish will be able to put the proceeds from its sale back into its community educational programs.

“When people don’t know which fish are endangered, they unknowingly eat them,” Parisi said. “As we’ve seen on land, the ocean and its fish are no match for technology. But most people want to be educated about the ocean.”

For those who would like to support Passionfish, visit them online at