Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back To School

As the summer wreaks havoc on our air conditioners and melts our ice cream, it's nice to step inside and think about the upcoming cooler months and the great fish that comes with them.  While it's difficult to accurately project everything that swims in with abundance in the future months, I am going to take to task giving you a glimpse of what will most likely be on the shelves and on your dinner plates.  Of course, keep in mind that hurricanes, extended heat waves, and good ole' natural aberrations could screw this all up.

August through November usually sees a plethora of dynamite North American swordfish.  This year's report shows that fish are big and bountiful and expectations are high for great fish to hit the market at a good clip.  Harpoon season opens up soon, usually with New Jersey being first and later the Canadians join the fun.  Harpoon swordfish is of the highest quality, boats usually go out to sea and return the same day.  As far as sustainability goes, swordfish stocks are looking great and the by-catch off of these boats is negligible.  Check out an article I published earlier on the subject in this blog's archives.

Fall with its cooler weather also stimulates fish to begin 'fattening' up.  This time of year you see great mackerel, crab meat, black sea bass, grey mullet, trigger fish, and grey tilefish.  Mackerel especially get a great fat content during these months, making their flavor stand out.  As far as eating a fish raw, I can't say that there are many better choices during these months.  Soft shell crabs are usually going out of season around October, but this is the time to buy hard shell live crabs and crab meat.  It is during this time that crabs begin to fatten up for the winter and the meat is at its sweetest.  The southern states, like VA, NC, and FL will begin producing black bass, mullet, trigger, and tilefish.  These fish don't get the notoriety they deserve and that only means you should definitely give them a try.  The meat is white, the stocks are great and its always good to take some of the fishing pressure off of tuna, salmon, and halibut.

Though tuna is available year round, fatty big eye usually spikes around August and September, when quality fish seems to be landed daily.  Yellowfin will usually get better as colder months like November and December roll through.  We can't neglect mentioning the little fish either:  Fresh sardines and fresh anchovies are at their best during the fall months.  This is the time of the year when these smaller feeder fish are exquisite in flavor and offer a small package packed with intense flavor.  It is also important to mention that they are sustainable and are one of the healthiest seafood options out there.

Shellfish...well, shellfish begin to thrive during the fall months.  In fact this is the best time to enjoy oysters, clams, and mussels.  This is when they are feeding heavily in order to create stores that will get them through the long winter.  If I were you I would make a bee-line to the oyster bar and not get up from my seat until I've done my part to replenish the Bay with empty oyster shells.  I probably don't have to tell you, but I'll remind you that everyone's favorite bi-valve comes into season in November - Nantucket Bay Scallops.  For this delicacy, there is no equal.

Here's a list of fish to get your fill of as fall makes its way with turning leaves and beautiful weather.  Fresh West Coast sable fish and halibut seasons end in November.  Soft shells will most likely run their course during October.  Wild King and Sockeye salmon runs usually dwindle and become too expensive during September and October.  So my advice is to get your fill of these items over the next few months, unless you prefer frozen items to fresh.  As for me, I like eating with the seasons, it just seems natural.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Yukon Follow-up

As a follow up to the post Yukon Dreaming, I wanted to let you know that the fish did not show up this year.   The Governor has written a letter stating the need for a disaster declaration by the Federal Government.  It is believed that the salmon are being intercepted by large pollock and similar rigged vessels out at sea, preventing the Yukon salmon from re-entering the river of their birth.  Click here to read more about the governor's efforts.  It is truly disheartening to learn that one of nature's great assets is in serious danger of extinction.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Future of Farming, Hopefully

Shrimp farms laced with bleach.  Antibiotic fed salmon sitting stationary in close quarters, infested with ISA and leaving the ocean floor barren.  When some of you hear fish farm these and other frightening images come to mind.  Though not all fish farms operate in such a reckless manner, some do, and unfortunately those farms give the rest of the industry a bad rap.  It is no secret that the world's population and it's seafood consumption is rising, in some places drastically, and in order to meet the growing demands aquaculture is a necessity.  I have heard some people comment that they would never touch a farmed fish, let alone invite it onto their plate for dinner.  There are farms out there however that are doing the right things to ensure that their product is not only safe to eat, but also sustains the natural environment.  One farm in Spain is on the cutting edge of sustainable farming practices and is setting a standard that I believe is the template for the environmental success of future aquaculture endeavors.

Veta La Palma is located in the Seville province of Spain, about 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and is owned by the same family who also operates Hisaparroz, a Spanish food conglomerate.  The farm is actually more like a bird sanctuary than fish farm, attracting flamingos, spoonbills, egrets and many other threatened or endangered species that feast on shrimp and small fish.  You won't see anyone out there trapping or firing rifles at them either, the birds are not unwelcome intruders but are seen as part of a living ecosystem.  You see, the philosophy behind Veta La Palma is to treat their fish and the environment that they inhabit less like products and facilities and more like wildlife and natural environs.

A view of the many flamingos at Veta La Palma
The process of growing their fish replicates what happens in nature.  I use the word grow instead of raise because the fish are mostly left to their own defenses to succeed or perish according to a natural balance.  There are no antibiotics needed.  The fish are stocked at low densities.  There is no need for feed pellets or GMO by-products.  The fish feed on shrimp that occur naturally due to the abundant plant-life.  Even the land benefits from the operation.  What was once a drained cattle ranch has been returned to natural wet lands.  Estuary water from the Atlantic is pumped in filled with tiny shrimp and micro-algae for the fish to feed.  The water is distributed to ponds and then returns to the sea cleaner than when it came in, having been filtered by the abundant plant and wildlife.  

What happens when a fish farm that produces bream, bass, and mullet actually improves the environment?  What happens when instead of degrading natural resources a farm sustains them?  The answer can be seen when you take in the beauty of Veta La Palma's natural operation; Harmony.  Balancing the environment's needs and our population's growing appetite for seafood is going to be a difficult obligation in the future.  We need to begin rethinking and retooling our methods of extraction from our natural resources, keeping in mind something my mother always reminded me about of our own environment; you only get one world to live in, they're not making any more of them, so you better take care of the one you have.  Looking at Veta La Palma as an example of what aquaculture could be, there might be some light shinning bright between the dark clouds accumilating in our future.

For a great video on Veta La Palma visit here

Monday, July 9, 2012

Bluefin Tuna Swims On

The debate swims on.  Do I eat bluefin tuna or don't I?  Are the stocks rebuilding or are we decimating an entire species?  In the seafood world I don't think there is a more publicized fish or a more disputed topic.  Articles and t.v. shows have been based on the free swimming bluefin tuna and many arguments have been made in all directions, from supporting the increase of harvest to doing away with the fishery altogether.  Who should we be listening to?  One has to wonder with all the opposing information out there, where exactly does the bluefin stand?

There are three varieties of the bluefin out there; the Pacific (Thunnus orientalis), Southern (Thunnus maccoyii), and the Atlantic (Thunnus thynnus).  About 80% of all bluefin tuna ends up in Japan, the biggest consumer by far of any country.  Most stock assessments of Pacific bluefin report that the fish is severely over-fished and the World Conservation Union lists the Southern and Atlantic species as threatened.  The International  Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meets just about every year and has for years supplied assessments warning that bluefin were being over-harvested at numbers that were not sustainable.  Some progress has been made supporting these reports and some area's quotas have been cut.  However, due to political pressure from representatives of countries that attended the commission, notably Japan, the cuts in quota have not been severe.  In most cases they can be best described as minimal and inadequate. 

In the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic tuna ranches are helping reduce the number of wild bluefin swimming in open water.  These ranches operate by seining wild bluefin and then transporting them to open net farms where they are fed and fattened.  From there they are harvested and sold to the market, most going to Japan.  This process is far from sustainable.  From the many pounds of wild fish it takes to feed the tuna, to the fact that wild fish are prevented from spawning, the endgame of this process is no more bluefin tuna. 

Then there is the western Atlantic bluefin fishery where the U.S. and Canada have small quotas and strict regulations.  Purse seining is forbidden.  Most fish are taken out of the water the old-fashioned way, hook and line.  This eliminates most, if not all, by-catch and prevents fishermen from taking several tons of fish out of the water with one scoop.  Of the 12,900 metric tons of bluefin tuna taken out of the water (reported) a year, the U.S. fishery only accounts for 800 metric tons.  This artisan fishery is also seeing signs of the bluefin bouncing back.  The stock assessment has been going in the right direction for over two years and this year it looks even more promising.

We are going to have to wait until 2013 before NOAA and ICCAT revisit the bluefin tuna debate.  Until then, I do not see how stock assessments for all bluefin fisheries can be seen as anything but over-fished.  It is important that our domestic artisan fishery remains intact.  I do believe this is the right way to fish bluefin and I would like the U.S. to take a stand and recommend this type of fishing and regulation to the global community.  This may ruffle some feathers, but I think its worth it, when you factor that an entire species is at stake.  The proof is in the numbers and the numbers report that what's happening in the western Atlantic needs to start happening elsewhere.  The fish will come back, if we let them.  Bluefin are majestic swimmers and highly evolved animals that deserve our attention and respect.  I support our artisan fisheries, but until the rest of the world catches on and ICCAT begins enforcing the changes that need to be made to save the species, I can not in good faith buy bluefin.  I will not however, condemn the U.S. fishery based on the mistakes made by other nations.