Thursday, September 26, 2013

Get The Word Out

Buying sustainable seafood has become a priority for customers nowadays, so much so that I would suggest that all seafood suppliers and most shoppers are at least familiar with at least one of the many organizations that rate seafood on sustainability.  However, with so many organizations cropping up with sustainable seafood rating systems, deciding which one (if there be just one) to trust can prove confusing.  Many of these organizations accept money from interested parties.  Some wait several years between assessments of fish stocks and fail to take into account updated information.  It can be difficult for customers buying seafood to decipher between all of these organizations and their rating systems.  Even congress has recently taken on the issue of sustainability and whether or not there should be laws and transparency requirements for selling sustainable seafood.  Who decides what is sustainable or not though is a question that causes problems in the debate.  At what point of reference should congress guide their rule of judgement?   Many shun the idea of inviting third-party organizations to the table, supposing that certain interests could interfere with judgement.  When taken to the task of developing a starting point of reference for sustainable seafood assessment, the government wisely looked into one of its own departments and found a solution that I think is a good ONE.  They tapped NOAA.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is an agency of the Department of Commerce and has a National Marine Fisheries Service arm within its organization.  The NMFS has been working on rebuilding U.S. fish stocks through collaborative efforts with fishermen and scientists for several years now and has met the challenge with much success.  Thanks to NOAA's efforts, all U.S. fisheries are now considered rebuilt or are in the rebuilding process.  NOAA is federally funded and offers unbiased assessment of all U.S. fish stocks.  The organization's research is used to determine openings, closures, and quotas for our nation's seafood harvests.  

NOAA also offers FISH WATCH for the everyday shopper concerned about the status of the domestic seafood product they are buying.  I believe Fish Watch is a terrific site to begin understanding the issues and science concerning your seafood purchases and it's usually where I start my search on sustainability issues.  Researching many sources for information is always recommended, but I suggest beginning with NOAA's Fish Watch.

There is currently an effort to bring NOAA's work to light not only on Capitol Hill, but also at the seafood counter.  It is important to buy sustainable seafood.  I believe that the more information out there that is available from credible sources, the better.  Everyone, from people that are making the laws in congress to people buying dinner for their family, should be aware and concern themselves with the issues of sourcing sustainable seafood.  The business of sustainability is becoming big business, as big as the seafood business itself.  There is a lot of information out there that benefits everyone, especially seafood customers.  I'm just suggesting that when you begin your journey reading through all the lists, systems, pamphlets, and evaluations, NOAA's Fish Watch is a terrific place to start  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Maine Shrimp Season Should Be Shut Down

Right now it looks like if you are craving wild domestic shrimp you could be out of luck.  Earlier in the summer gulf shrimp operations were postponed by a couple of weeks which lead to higher prices than usual for wild gulf shrimp.  The season has finally gotten under way, but product has been slow to come to market.  Now another wild U.S. shrimp industry, the sweet Maine pink shrimp, could be in jeopardy.  Most of us who look forward to the winter months when these domestic, sweet shrimp become available may be in for heartbreak as the initial stock analysis looks forebodingly low.

Many fishermen who rely on the Maine shrimp harvest for winter paychecks could be out of luck.  There are recommendations that the season be shut down due to the low numbers of harvestable shrimp, which has not happened since 1978, and I agree.  Last year shrimpers operated with a quota that was cut by 70% and still the stock did not rebound.  Though I believe that warmer ocean temperatures are the main culprit, I believe that we have to give the species the best chance to survive, even if that means pulling our gear out of the water.  Maine shrimp are a wonderful resource and provide winter money for many families, but their value as a species in the marine ecosystem and our respect for that environment should far outweigh their usefulness as a traded commodity.

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Monday, September 9, 2013


When working in the seafood business you get a lot of questions, random questions, with answers you take for granted.  Sometimes I forget that not everyone, chefs included, is not a fish nerd like myself.  That being said, here are some seafood related questions that I often get with short, easily remembered answers.  Mom if you're reading, the first one's for you.

Q: What is calamari made out of?

A:  If you see calamari on a restaurant menu it will most likely 10 times out of 10 be made from cut squid.  Most restaurants use the tubes (body) and tentacles chopped into small pieces and most often it is served fried.  And yes, squid and octopus are different creatures, related, but different.

Q:  If a snapper is red, does it make it a red snapper?

A:  Barring the philosophical difficulties that you could get into with this question, the seafood answer is no, it doesn't.  There are many cases where similar looking snappers are traded out for the more expensive and highly prized true American Red Snapper.  Though similar in looks and color, there is only one American Red.  To avoid being duped by mislabeling I suggest you frequent seafood establishments who have whole fish on hand and do their own butchering in-house.  It also helps if the staff can answer the tough questions about where the fish came from and who caught it.

Q:  Is all farmed salmon bad to eat?

A:  No, No, No.  Not at all.  I always say I wouldn't sell a salmon that I wouldn't feed to my family and I mean it.  Though there are farms out there that I wouldn't eat fish from, the salmon we sell at BlackSalt is grown by some of the strictest methods possible.  Farms like Skuna Bay and True North are making great strides in aquaculture methods.  Every year the feed and containment measures are getting better.

Q:  Is farmed fish bad to eat?

A:  Again, the answer is no, with a but.  There are some sustainable farms out there, doing the right thing by ensuring that their operations are environmentally safe and the fish produced are healthy to eat.  These include tilapiabarramundi, pompano and black bass

Q:  Is tuna, swordfish, and wild fish safe to eat?

A:  Yes.  The benefits from eating more fish far outweigh the negatives.  I would suggest mixing up your diet and seafood selections.  Broadening your repertoire is essential here, the more seafood varieties you eat, the better off any one species will be.

Q:  Can you eat oysters in summer?

A:  Yes.

Q: Is rockfish actually a striped bass?

A:  Yes, what we call rockfish here on the East Coast is actually a striped bass.   There is an actual rockfish species that is commercially fished on the West Coast which includes about 35 different varieties.

Q:  What is the best shrimp to purchase and eat?

A:  I always recommend wild, domestic shrimp over imported and farmed.

Q:  Most U.S. wild fisheries are overfished, we shouldn't be eating wild fish should we?

A:  Actually, all U.S. fisheries are either at a sustainable balance and are not being overfished or are on a management quota program that is currently rebuilding depleted stocks.  The U.S.'s management of its wild stocks has come a long way since the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the future looks bright for our domestic wild fisheries.  Check out more information at NOAA.