We’re encouraged by recent efforts to boost the local fishing industry. And we’re excited about bigger developments on the way this summer.
Last week, restaurateurs from around New England gathered with aquaculture experts at Johnson and Wales University in Providence. The purpose: to exchange ideas on sustainability in America’s seafood industry.
Derek Wagner, chef and owner at Nick’s on Broadway in Providence, told attendees that he once struggled to get his hands on locally caught seafood — until about 10 years ago.
Frustrated by the lack of information about where his restaurant’s salmon originated, he met with two fishermen out of Point Judith, Rhode Island. Instead of telling them what he wanted for his menu, he asked the fishermen what they wanted to sell: ″What is abundant? What are you having a hard time selling? What do you think people should be eating?”
Wagner pledged to take whatever the local fishermen could provide and “make it delicious.” Now he said he consults with local fishermen whenever he creates a new menu.
Another chef, Bun Lai from Connecticut, told of how he began making sushi with the Asian shore crab — an invasive species found in great abundance along the New England coastline. “They’re absolutely delicious,” he said.
The stories from these two chefs underscore the importance of marketing the plentiful but “underutilized” species caught in New England waters — redfish, spiny dogfish, scup, hake and others.
There was a time not too long ago when diners would have cringed at the thought of eating a homely monkfish. But the toothy ocean monsters — with their bear-trap jaws, big heads and even bigger bellies — became a prized catch, thanks in some part to an old episode of the French Chef with Julia Child. Monkfish has a taste and texture that is often compared to lobster and it now commands top dollar at finer restaurants.
In America’s most lucrative seafood seaport, we need to find more uses for hidden treasures like the ugly monkfish. The greater the variety of seafood that Americans consume, the less pressure that will be placed on any individual fishery — like cod, flounder or other high-demand species.
The New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center is doing its part, too.
With funding from a $10,000 state grant, the center is kicking off a series of free cooking classes at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School this month. The intent is to teach local seafood lovers how to prepare such underused catch as hake, redfish and scup.
The first lesson is set for June 27, taught by noted local chef and former New Bedford City Councilor Henry Bosquet. Find more information at http://fishingheritagecenter.org/programs/classes/.
We understand that broadening the collective appetite is only part of what is needed to grow New Bedford’s fishing industry. Another key element is traceability.
Customers at restaurants and grocery stores should know whether their codfish fillets were landed by local fishermen in local waters or by whether they were flash-frozen after being caught in Iceland or the North Pacific. These facts are important for savvy consumers who want high-quality, sustainable seafood and also want to support local fishermen.
Anna Malek Mercer, executive director of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation, told attendees in Providence that America’s highly regulated seafood industry is fully sustainable — a result of myriad regulations that have been endured by American fishermen during the past few decades. But the downside is that 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. Getting the word out about America’s high-quality seafood is of paramount importance, she said.
We’re encouraged by the promise of new technology that is expected to do just that.
Buyers and Sellers Exchange (BASE), the New Bedford electronic seafood auction, is currently working with Boston-based LegitFish to update the auction company’s software. It’s expected to go online this summer. When it does, the software will not only allow buyers to access BASE by mobile devices, it will provide an easy way for consumers to trace the sources of the fish they buy.
Increasing consumer awareness, opening new markets for local fishermen and whetting America’s appetite for new types of seafood are all ideas that we can get behind.