Selected tags: Sustainable Seafood

The quest for sustainable seafood has never been easier

Photo credit: Rick Moonen/RM Seafood

Photo credit: Rick Moonen/RM Seafood

If you love seafood, the six weeks between Mardi Gras and Easter is likely one of your favorite times of the year. It doesn’t hurt that restaurants, fish markets and grocery stores are awash with Lenten promotions, resulting in the most profitable period for seafood sales.

So why not use this time to get out of your comfort zone?  Put down the tuna and salmon and try something new; the seafood market has an abundance of options.   Additionally, consumers are seeking out local and sustainable seafood like never before, representing some of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry for the past several years.

But which fish are the best to buy? Tools like EDF’s mobile  Seafood Selector and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app are great ways to have sustainable seafood recommendations at your fingertips. Some fish pundits like Chef Alton Brown – host of Good Eats and other programs on the Food Network – go so far as to encourage consumers to ignore all the labels and just “Buy American.” In the absence of definitive information, this might be your best option. However, it’s usually a good bet that your fishmonger or server can tell you where their fish is from.

Did you know?

The average piece of fish can be handled by up to 10-15 people before it gets to your plate. This isn’t inherently bad, especially if it’s coming from remote waters, like Alaska’s Bering Sea. However, more and more seafood lovers want to know who caught their fish, and more importantly, how long it’s taken to get to market. In response, a number of companies, fishermen and nonprofits alike are committed to “shortening the supply chain” between the ocean and your plate. Here’s a sampling of some of our favorites:

  • Gulf Wild provides individually tagged, traceable and responsibly-caught red snapper and grouper from the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Ecofish is one of the first all-sustainable seafood companies. Their products can be found in health food and natural food stores all across the country.
  • I Love Blue Sea is a California-based company selling a variety of seafood online and direct to consumers. They recently added Gulf Coast and Chesapeake Bay products too.
  • Dock to Dish is a new startup on the East End of Long Island that delivers fresh, hand-caught Montauk seafood to New York City restaurants and consumers within 24 hours.
  • Sea 2 Table partners with local fishermen from small-scale wild fisheries around the country to get their catch direct to market as fast as possible.
  • Community Supported Fisheries have sprung up in the last few years in the mold of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). Basically, you pay a local fisherman upfront for a share of his catch and receive a regular seafood delivery throughout the season.
  • Trash Fish or ‘underutilized’ or ‘underappreciated’ seafood species are all the rage right now, and our good friends at Chefs Collaborative are hosting a series of dinners around the country that hope to spread awareness about fish that are sustainably-caught yet undervalued.

It's never been easier to find sustainable, healthy seafood that directly benefits local, responsible fishermen. So put down that generic fish sandwich and help ensure that this trend continues.

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I’ll Have the Gulf Red Snapper, Please

Fresh Red Snapper

Gulf Red Snapper

[This was originally posted in National Geographic's Ocean Views Blog]

I’m thrilled to report that Gulf of Mexico red snapper got a little less “red” today. That’s because our partners at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program – the most well-known sustainable seafood program in the United States – announced that they’ve removed the commercial fishery for Gulf of Mexico red snapper from their ‘Avoid’ list and awarded them a new ‘Good Alternative’ rating.

While there are still improvements to be made in this fishery, let’s take a minute to appreciate how much progress has been made in the last few years. Gulf of Mexico red snapper used to be a poster child for unsafe, wasteful fishing. In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s the fishery was ruled by derby seasons where fishermen raced to catch as much fish as possible a few days every month. This had tremendous consequences for both fish and fishermen, as quality and profitability suffered and the red snapper population dwindled.

Fortunately, fishermen, managers and conservationists finally recognized the severity of the problem and decided to get the fishery back on track. In 2007, an Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program, coupled with a scientifically set catch limit, was implemented that put Gulf red snapper on the road to recovery. Since then, rebuilding red snapper populations have supported a 70% increase in fishing quotas, waste of marketable fish has declined by about 50%, and fishermen earn 33% more per pound of fish landed. Commercial fishing seasons now last the full year, and the sector demonstrates strong compliance with its catch limit. These same fishermen even pioneered an innovative new traceability program after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that tracks every single fish back to the boat that caught it.

Unfortunately the recreational portion of the fishery (which shares the Gulf red snapper quota about evenly with commercial fishermen) remains saddled with outdated management that leads to blown catch limits year after year. That’s not because recreational fishermen aren’t responsible or don’t care about sustainability. It’s that the recreational management program is utterly failing. The system punishes everyone because it is based on antiquated rules and poor monitoring. To make sure recovery doesn’t backslide, new technologies for faster and better data collection, more accurate fish counting and incentives for conservation are badly needed.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the body charged with managing the fishery, has many different proposals in front of them to solve the problems facing the recreational fishery.  Some of them show promise and some of them could very well make things worse. In the coming months they will be making some important decisions that will impact everyone that depends on the red snapper fishery.  The bottom line is that recreational fishermen need a solution that can work for them on the water while providing the necessary incentives and accountability to ensure long-term sustainability for the fishery – so that being on the “red list” will remain a distant memory.

Join me in celebrating the fact that the sustainability stigma is no longer affixed to the Gulf commercial red snapper fishery. Not only does today’s news acknowledge the fishery’s transition to better management; it means that conservation-minded commercial Gulf red snapper fishermen now have access to better market opportunities through major buyers that have made commitments to sustainable seafood. So the next time you see this delicious fish in the market or on a menu, enjoy it with the knowledge that you’re making a good choice for both the ocean and the small family-owned fishing businesses that rely on it.

For more fish musings, please follow me on Twitter @hawaiifitz

Tim Fitzgerald is a marine scientist and senior policy specialist with Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program. Tim directs EDF’s sustainable seafood program, and specializes in the intersection of environmental sustainability and public health. He is also a senior member of EDF’s National Policy team, advocating for more sustainable federal fisheries management policies.

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How Sustainable is your Supermarket’s Seafood Case?

sustainability rankings of seafood retailers 2013

ImageCredit: Greenpeace, from "Carting Away the Oceans 2013" Report

Last week, Greenpeace USA released the seventh edition of their popular Carting Away the Oceans report, which ranks the sustainable seafood performance of the nation’s 20 largest supermarket chains. Industry leaders like Wegmans (a former EDF partner on salmon and shrimp sourcing), Whole Foods and Safeway once again scored in the top five, while Winn Dixie, Publix and Supervalu perennially find themselves at the bottom of the rankings.

This year’s report places extra emphasis on the ways that these companies approach pressing conservation policy issues, such as the approval of genetically-modified salmon, the advancement of industry-wide seafood traceability, and catch methods for canned tuna.

Perhaps the report’s biggest surprise was the improvement shown by prepared foods leader Trader Joe’s, which rocketed up 12 spots (from 15th in 2012 to 3rd this year). This comes just weeks after public scrutiny of the company’s follow-through on its 2012 sustainable seafood promise. However, Greenpeace gave Trader Joe’s a major pat on the back for removing several unsustainable species from their inventory and switching to better sources of canned tuna.

Although we don’t always agree with our Greenpeace colleagues about the composition of their ‘red list’, we were happy to see them recognize the improving sustainability of Gulf of Mexico red snapper and grouper – fisheries that EDF has worked in for more than a decade. They even gave a nod to EDF partner H-E-B for their strong support of the GulfWild traceability program.

So until next year’s edition, try to use your seafood dollars to support companies that are on the right track. If you are uncertain about the right species to purchase, you can refer to our recently revamped “Seafood Selector.” Let’s hope that the good continue to get better and the not-so-good get serious about seafood sustainability.

 

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Seafood Selector helps you have your hake (and eat it too)

Environmental Defense Fund recently released the latest version of its popular Seafood Selector, a tool to help make consumers aware of critical ocean conservation issues through the fish that they and their families eat. Today I want to take a moment to remember what life was like in 2001, when our first version came out as a small black-and-white paper cutout in the organization's quarterly member newsletter. (I know it’s hard to believe, but most people still received their environmental news by snail mail back in those days).

Back then, most people still didn’t have cell phones, and those that did just kept them in their gloveboxes for emergencies. I was a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, studying shark ecology and physiology. Even as a young marine biologist, I was largely unaware of the impacts of our personal choices on the health of the oceans.

Raising consumer awareness of ocean conservation issues was no easy task 12 years ago – and is still a challenge today – given the complexity of how most fish makes it to our plates. For example, here are some interesting facts you might not know about the U.S. seafood market:

  • More than 90% of U.S. seafood is now imported.
  • Almost two-thirds of our imported fish comes from Asia.
  • Our seafood trade deficit is approximately $11 billion. That’s billion with a ‘B’.
  • Almost 60% of U.S. seafood consumption is from 3 items (shrimp, canned tuna, salmon). If you add ‘whitefish’, like pollock, cod and tilapia, the per capita total goes up to 80%.
  • More than 50% of U.S. seafood is now farm-raised.
  • Roughly 33% of U.S. seafood is mislabeled.
  • Americans eat 10% less seafood than they did in 2004 (15 lbs/person in 2011 versus 16.6 lbs/person in 2004).

Consumers care about sustainability now more than ever. That means they want to know where their food comes from, and more importantly, what impact its production had on the environment. This is especially true in restaurants, where a recent survey of chefs by the National Restaurant Association found that local and sustainable seafood accounted for three of the Top 10 culinary trends for 2013.

EDF's latest version of the Seafood Selector makes it easier than ever for seafood lovers to make fish choices that are healthy for them AND the oceans, with profiles of more than 200 types of commonly eaten seafood. The new Seafood Selector is also optimized for just about every type of mobile device out there. (I, for one, can’t wait to see what the 2023 Seafood Selector looks like!) So whether you want to know the difference between farmed and wild salmon, the mercury content of different types of tuna, or learn more about EDF’s fisheries work around the country – Seafood Selector is the tool for you.

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Support American Fishermen: Fish for a different dish

monkfish

Photo Credit: Nate Gray/flickr
Monkfish, aka American goosefish, eats way better than it looks.

When it comes to seafood, we  are creatures of narrow habit. The average American eats about 15 pounds of seafood each year  (well below the global average for coastal nations), almost 60% of which is either shrimp, canned tuna or salmon. That number jumps to more than 80% if you include "whitefish" like pollock, tilapia and cod.

So when one of these few items becomes overfished, too expensive or less available, the market usually just tries to pass off some other species in its place.

For example, 20 years ago, no one knew what a slimehead or American goosefish was. But when Atlantic cod fisheries crashed, low-value orange roughy and monkfish slowly gained in popularity and are now staples on restaurant menus – even though most people have no idea what the actual fish look like. What started out as worthless bycatch (also known as trash fish) that usually got dumped overboard will now routinely run you $10/lb or more in the market.

Unfortunately, Atlantic cod populations off New England are actually faring even worse today. We recently learned thatfishing quotas for 2013 will be slashed by almost 80% in certain areas compared to last year. There are several factors at play, among them decades of intense fishing pressure, ecosystem shifts and climate change. Nevertheless, we should still support New England fishermen by purchasing what little local cod makes it to market in 2013.

But how can we ensure that this iconic fishery – and others like it on the Pacific coast – don’t disappear quietly in the night? Our experience with orange roughy and monkfish provides one important answer: Previously unfamiliar fish can win the hearts of seafood lovers and help strengthen local fisheries.

It turns out that cod fishermen can also target several other related species, but traditionally haven’t done so because they don’t yet command a good price. Trash fish (or as I like to call them, under-appreciated species) like Atlantic hakepollock and Acadian redfish may be the key to this fishery’s survival. Read More »

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Eating with the Ecosystem: Georges Bank


Eating with the EcosystemEating with the Ecosystem is a project created to help consumers learn about the marine waters from which New England seafood is harvested.  The project aims to build upon related efforts focused on sustainable seafood and eating local by urging consumers to think about the suite of species living together in a given place, and their ecological interactions and fluctuations in abundance.  In other words, their mission is to grow awareness of individual species to awareness of the entire ecosystem.

One important message of Eating with the Ecosystem is that consumers should focus on healthy stocks so that we benefit from abundance while allowing other resources to recover.  Today, this means being willing to try species that are unfamiliar to many seafood lovers.  As we work to recover well-known species like cod and flounder, species such as dogfish, skates, hake, pollock and redfish present opportunities to offset lost revenue for fishermen, and for diners to try some new tastes.  Fortunately, based on the results of a poll conducted collaboratively by EDF and the Center for Marketing Research at UMass-Dartmouth, consumers seem willing to give those species a chance.

In the spirit of the “trash fish” dinner recently sponsored by the Chef’s Collaborative, Eating with the Ecosystem is hosting a series of dinners across New England to showcase underappreciated seafood and the ecosystems from which it comes. I was fortunate to attend their most recent event highlighting the Georges Bank ecosystem, which was held at one of my favorite restaurants: Ten Tables, located right in my own neighborhood, Boston’s Jamaica Plain.

The menu began with a simple sea scallop ceviche served with Hakurei turnip, green apple and arugula.  As the basis of the most valuable fishery in the United States, sea scallops are far from unknown in the market!  But the stock is abundant, and no meal focused on the Georges Bank would be complete without scallops on the menu.

Next up was a house cured hake brandade, served alongside pickles and mini toasts.  There are actually three different species of hake found on Georges Bank: white, red and silver.  An interesting ecological linkage between the first course and the second is that juvenile red hake take shelter inside adult sea scallops after beginning their lives as tiny larvae drifting among the plankton and then settling to the seafloor. Read More »

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‘Fish on Fridays’: Black Sea Bass, Virginia Beach Style

Black Sea Bass

Black Sea Bass

If you’ve been to an upscale Manhattan seafood restaurant, chances are you’ve seen Black Sea Bass on the menu. New York chefs drive the bulk of the demand for this tasty Atlantic fish, but you don’t have to be a fancy New York City chef to put Black Sea Bass on the table.  Sea bass fished off the coast of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware is caught sustainably under a catch share program which ensures that catch limits are not exceeded and fish populations can maintain healthy numbers. It is important to note, however, that not all sea bass caught on the Atlantic coast is sustainably managed, so it is best to ask your chef or seafood vendor where the fish was caught to ensure you are supporting fishermen who are fishing sustainably.

This week’s ‘Fish on Fridays’ post features VA black sea bass, currently managed under an ITQ system. Jack Stallings and his partner at Virginia Beach’s Coastal Grill have shared their technique for frying sea bass whole and serving it with scallion butter.

Meet a fisherman and restaurant owner: Jack Stallings

Stallings has been a commercial, hook and line Black Sea Bass fisherman for years. He remembers fishing for it long before it was under Virginia’s IFQ (catch share) program, when the competition was fierce and fishermen were restricted to quarterly quotas that glutted the market and lowered the price they’d get for their catch. Once the IFQ went into effect in 2004, he said, he could pick and choose when to fish, going out when he knew demand (and prices) would be highest, and when he was sure the fish would be biting.

“We know when the trawlers are catching a lot of fish and when they’d be landing,” he said. “We can work in between their landings. We know when prices are low, so we can save our quota for other times, when prices are higher.”

But Stallings doesn’t fish as much as he used to. Now that he’s 65 and semi-retired, he spends more of his time focused on the restaurant he co-owns. Black Sea Bass is only one of many species they cook up for their customers; he’s quick to note that it’s more popular in New York than it is in Virginia Beach.

 

Black Sea Bass:

One of four species jointly managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Black Sea Bass can be fished year round, though it is harder to catch during the summer spawning months. It is a flaky, white fish when cooked that is used in chowder, fried, grilled or stuffed. It can be found near the rocky bottom of the ocean and has stiff dorsal fins that should be handled with care. Stallings said his restaurant serves it with the fins still on.

 

Fried Black Sea Bass at Coastal Grill

Ingredients:

Whole fresh black sea bass

Corn starch

Scallion Butter:

3 Fresh scallions, chopped

1 stick butter, melted

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

 

Instructions:

For the scallion butter:

Sauté the scallions in vegetable oil. Add to the melted butter.

 

For the fish:

Scale, gut and remove the gills from the fish. Leave on the head, the tail and the fins.

Make three vertical cuts in each side of the fish to allow it to cook evenly. Then roll in corn starch. Shake it by the tail to remove excess starch, and then, still holding it by the tail, dip it into a fryer “for as long as you dare,” or about five seconds. This makes the fins stand out.

Then “turn it loose” into the fryer and cook for three to four minutes. Remove from fryer, let it drain and set it on the plate.

Drizzle with scallion butter and serve.

 

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Fishermen and Chefs United: Keep Catch Shares On The Table

Left to Right: EDF National Policy Specialist Melissa Carey, Former Senator Slade Gorton III, Former Representative  Robin Tallon & Representative Chellie Pingree.
Photo Credit: David Hills

This week more than 100 fishermen, chefs and seafood distributors from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C. to talk with members of Congress about sustainable fishing and the need to keep catch shares in the tool box for our nation’s fisheries managers.

Recently, some in Congress have attempted to take catch shares off the table for fishery managers; limiting regional councils’ ability to make the best decision for their fishermen.

Catch shares help eliminate overfishing and restore fish stocks by dividing the total scientifically approved allowable catch among the fishermen and ending short seasons and derbies. Catch shares have been proven to recover fish populations, increase compliance with catch limits, reduce waste, stabilize revenue and increase business efficiency.

In more than 115 meetings, the fishermen and chefs stood together to make it clear that catch shares are working, they are making American fisheries more sustainable and they have had positive impacts not only on fishermen, but the seafood industry.

Chef Rick Moonen of rm Seafood in Las Vegas delivered a letter to Congress signed by chefs from around the country, including Eric Ripert, Mario Batali, Hugh Acheson, Kerry Heffernan, and Susan Spicerjust to name a few.

Guests at NOD 2013 congressional reception enjoy sustainable seafood recipes provided by celebrity chefs. Photo Credit: David Hills

Read More »

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