Got a hankering for haddock? Eat hake instead. It’s the other haddock. I think it’s better than haddock, actually.

I was surprised one evening to see a hake taco on the menu of Hot Suppah!, a Portland restaurant. Since hake is featured in the Gulf of Maine Institute’s Sustainable Fishery Initiative, I felt really good when I ordered it. And it was delicious.

The chef told me he was trying hake because he wanted to feature a Maine fish that is sustainably harvested.

By chance the following weekend, Source, the Sunday newspaper’s new food section, included a story about the institute’s Out of the Blue program. So I called James Benson, the institute’s sustainable seafood project manager, to learn more.

The institute actually has two programs. One is a branding program focused on responsibly harvested species, working mostly with retail stores, while the other encourages the use of underutilized species, working mostly with restaurants.

You can learn a lot more about these programs at www.gmri.org in the “community” section. I was pleased to see some of the restaurants Linda and I have written about in our travel column on the list of places enrolled as Sustainable Seafood Culinary Partners, including Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, King Eider’s Pub in Damariscotta, and Solo Bistro in Bath. The partners pledge to include one sustainably harvested seafood dish on their menu at all times.

The seafood harvested responsibly in the Gulf of Maine, from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, are lobster, mackerel, cod, pollock, sea scallops, dogfish, haddock, redfish, whiting (silver hake) and northern shrimp. The shrimp harvest and season closed down, so this is now on the inactive list. And while haddock is now sustainably harvested, the allowable harvest is small, so you should focus on the underutilized species: hake, mackerel, pollock and dogfish.

I was going to suggest that dogfish needs a new name, but then remembered that catfish is popular. Christine Burns Rudalevige’s article in Source focused on dogfish. Fourteen restaurants are featuring the underutilized species in rotation for one month each, beginning with redfish.

That issue of Source also featured a fascinating article, written by Susan Axelrod, about Barton Seaver, a chef turned activist working on sustainable seafood and healthy oceans issues and programs. He’s become a leading voice on these critically important issues. On Friday, he’s a keynote speaker at Maine Fare in Belfast, “a two-day festival full of good food and food for thought” hosted by the Maine Farmland Trust.

In case you don’t think any of this is important, I call your attention to an Associated Press story last Sunday headlined “Georges Bank catch subject of fishery fight.” Atlantic herring and haddock anglers are fighting over management of those species, and it’s ugly. Maine’s future as a maritime commercial fishing state, and our coastal fishing heritage, is very much at stake in these debates, decisions, projects and programs.

The Salt Exchange in Portland is one of the restaurants participating in Out of the Blue. Rudalevige reported that of the five species featured there last summer, dogfish was the best seller. In August, the restaurant will host a Gulf of Maine Research Institute dinner featuring dogfish — a great chance to try it!

Benson told me he hopes, after customers have enjoyed these fish species in a restaurant, they’ll start buying them in retail stores.

So far this summer, I’ve eaten lobster, scallops and hake. Dogfish may be a stretch for me, but if I see it on a menu, I’m going to try it. Please join me in seeking out and eating these underutilized and sustainably harvested fish species. Just for the hake of it.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.