The 104-pound swordfish at Whole Foods: His name is Eduardo

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In life, he was a 104-pound swordfish in the North Atlantic, a loner, with finite eyesight, swimming around and snapping up a good meal of tuna, mackerel or an octopus, if he could get it. But his species' famed speed and agility did not save him from being harpooned off Nova Scotia by a Marine Stewardship Council-certified fishery using time-honored tribal practices to catch one swordfish at a time.

Just like in Fight Club, he had no name until his death. And now his name is Eduardo.

Eduardo's demise is a boon for customers at the Whole Foods in Cherry Creek, where seafood team leader Josh Peters; John Ash, trained chef and seafood demo guru; and the store's seafood department had laid him gently on a bed of crushed ice behind the glass counter, in anticipation of getting between 60 and 85 cuts of dense, meaty white fillets from his plump, inert body.

When I arrived at the store last week, there was the noticeable fragrance of grilled fish that had been marinated in various herb-infused sauces. Newcomers to the place would have no problem locating the seafood department on Wednesdays, since this and ongoing humpdays have been christened "Ocean Watch Wednesday" and will feature cooking demos and plenty of information about sustainable seafood for customers to take in while they get a glimpse of the spotless and artfully-arranged seafood counter. But then, this is Whole Foods -- and its marketing prowess is tough to deny.

Heather Larrabee, marketing specialist for Cherry Creek Whole Foods, explained that this store has the top-performing seafood department in the country (despite being in landlocked Denver), with all the fish caught, docked and flown in six days a week, with little lag time between catch and counter. Through this spiel, Eduardo lay silent, his enormous eye unblinking, flanked by pre-cut swordfish steaks on the bed of ice.

Denver has the best fish in the Whole Foods chain? That was an intriguing concept. I asked Josh Peters if Eduardo were still alive and living in the Platte River, would he taste good after being caught and cut up?

"Hmmm...that I don't know," he said, grinning.

A nearby customer quipped, "I wouldn't eat anything that came out of the Platte River."

Larrabee told me that it's company policy to label all fish with information on where it is from (or where it was raised) and how it was caught. She described the MSC as a sort of "sea police" that ensures proper standards are met or exceeded (no over-fishing, high bi-catch or damage to ecosystems), and said that sustainable practices are better for everyone in the long-term, with healthy ecosystems and future sustainability for the food sources.

"The state of the oceans is not good right now," she said. "If we keep gobbling up the resources, then whole species may not be available to our children and grandchildren, so people can vote with their dollar."

And swordfish isn't cheap here: Whole Foods's wild-caught, MSC-approved fresh swordfish is $17.99 per pound.

So I had to ask: Why should people pay so much to buy it at Whole Foods, instead of grabbing a much cheaper box of frozen fish somewhere else?

Peters chuckled, and replied, "You get what you pay for -- everyone wants a Mercedes-Benz for $5, but you get a Metro."

Larrabee then pointed out that Whole Foods did have portions of fish priced for budget-conscious customers, such as a six-ounce fillet of Chilean sea bass for $9.99. While perusing the counter, I also noticed a selection of Cañon City Colorado tilapia -- the "prison fish" aqua-farmed by inmates of Colorado Correctional Industries -- at $8.99 per pound.

Ash was serving up little plates of grilled swordfish, and I fell in love with a few bites that had been sautéed in coconut-mango sauce. But I did feel a slight twinge of guilt when I looked over at Eduardo, still perched serenely on his ice bed, the harpoon marks visible on his chilly neck.

I left with a bellyful of fish, hopeful that tomorrow's Ocean Watch Wednesday -- which might feature whole tunas with the heads on -- would feature dishes just as delicious, so that Eduardo's sacrifice would not be in vain.

Eduardo had no comment.

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