Over the past 20 or so years, Americans have become increasingly ravenous for raw fish. While Americanized sushi may cause the Japanese to cringe in horror (stuffing rolls with cream cheese, mayonnaise and jalopeño is just not cool in Japan), raw fish is quickly joining the ranks of pizza, cheeseburgers and apple pie in the American diet. In fact, it’s estimated that there are now more than 9,000 sushi restaurants in America, with the number of sushi bars quintupling between 1988 and 1998.

Unfortunately, the growing worldwide demand for fish has decimated some populations of the tasty swimmers. With the sad state of the world’s oceans today, it sure feels like every Bento box comes with a free side of guilt.

But starting today, it may be a bit easier to seek out sustainable sushi and sashimi. The Monterey Bay Aquarium just released its pocket guide to eco-friendly fish, and also offers tips on how to be a more environmentally conscious sushi restaurant-goer. And while it may seem like sustainable fish guides are more plentiful than, well, fish in the sea, this is one of the few guides specifically geared towards sushi eaters.

The guide (which is downloadable in a pocket-sized version) breaks fish into three categories: “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives,” and fish to “Avoid.” Sometimes it’s OK to eat the farmed version of a fish as opposed to the wild, or vice versa. And to learn that information, Monterey Bay also provides tips for talking to sushi chefs.

From the Monterey Bay website:

At the sushi bar you have a unique opportunity to talk with your chef about the food you’re about to eat. Let the chef know that you appreciate seasonal, sustainable seafood choices and that you’d like to explore new flavors.

Ask if the seafood is farmed or wild, how it was caught and where it’s from. Your chef’s answers will help you make good choices.

After all, sushi chefs sit right in front you which makes for easy chatting — unlike other restaurants where cooks are hidden away in the kitchen (and trust us, sneaking back there to inquire about sustainable fare is sometimes frowned upon by restaurant management).

The new sushi guide site also offers users the opportunity to download Chef Feedback Cards to leave behind at sushi bars. The cards encourage restaurants to serve environmentally conscious sushi, and also have a spot for you to write in your own comments.

So next time you’re heading down to Sushi Samba (or any other Japanese joint), be sure to bring your wallet and your sushi guide. And of course, feel more than welcome to pair that wild Alaskan spicy salmon roll with a large bottle of ocean-friendly sake.

Story by Sarah Parsons. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Monterey Bay Aquarium's sushi guide
To help you in all your delectable, fish-devouring pursuits.