Celebrate National Seafood Month with our Favorite Sustainable Seafood

Seafood and New England go together like peanut butter and jelly. In our country’s founding days, early Americans fished the bountiful seas and laid the foundation for a strong connection with the ocean and seafood that remains to this day.

Everyone knows the New England seafood favorites, like lobster and cod. And Americans in general tend to stick to just three types of seafood: shrimp, canned tuna, and salmon. But there are so many fish in the sea – pun intended – that we thought we’d celebrate National Seafood Month by letting you in on some of our staff’s own sustainable seafood favorites.

1 Fish, 2 Fish, Redfish…

“I tried Acadian Redfish for the first time in the summer of 2015. Since its nickname is “rose” fish, matching my middle name, I figured it was a good place to start. And I’m glad I did!

Stocks of redfish collapsed in the 80s, and though they were declared recovered in 2012 – having since reaching thriving levels – redfish hasn’t returned to dinner plates as ubiquitously as it was in the 1940s and 50s. So go retro, and enjoy some redfish for #SeafoodMonth. You can enjoy redfish grilled, baked, or pan-fried. Or check out this delicious spicy redfish tacos recipe from FishWatch!”
-Amanda Yanchury, Ocean Communications Associate

Blue Fish Mussels

“As a kid, if given the choice between pizza and seafood, I always chose seafood (and still do today). One of my seafood dishes of choice has always been mussels, and growing up in New England, this means blue mussels. It’s tough to beat the traditional garlic and olive oil mussel dish served with some fresh bread. And when I got older, I was happy to learn that mussels are considered one of the “best choice” seafoods to eat by Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

In New England, and elsewhere in the U.S., mussels are typically grown rather than harvested from the wild; this can take place on suspended ropes or beds on the seafloor. They are fairly easy to raise because mussels get their food by filtering phytoplankton from the water column. They also improve water quality by filtering excess nutrients! Delicious and environmentally friendly – that’s a win-win for me.”
-Allison Lorenc, Ocean Conservation Program Assistant

Seaweed

“When folks think seafood, they don’t often think seaweed. But you should! Seaweed, the veggie of the sea, is both nutritious and delicious, with lots of protein and minerals and few fats and carbs. Seaweed has been a human food staple for millennia, and has recently been growing in popularity. This is good news for our ocean. Farmed seaweed cleans ocean water, requires few resources, and complements other fisheries.

I like to throw seaweed in soups – it can replace other greens and adds a tasty umami flavor. And although I’m not a vegan, I love this Caesar dressing featuring seaweed.”
-Megan Herzog, Staff Attorney

Runners-up

Swordfish: Sometimes caught with with handlines or harpoons, swordfish are an excellent seafood option because these manners of fishing are not harmful to the surrounding environment and bycatch is rare (meaning they don’t catch a lot of other marine life that must be thrown back). 

US Bluefish: Bluefish are sustainably managed and enjoy healthy population levels. You can feel good eating this fish knowing that the stocks are not in danger. Most bluefish are caught by recreational fishermen, whose hook-and-line gear has minimal impact on the environment. 

Black Sea Bass: Wild caught in Massachusetts, black sea bass is an excellent choice if you live in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or further south. Its populations are abundant and sustainably managed. 

Americans eat less seafood than recommended, consuming fewer than 15 pounds on average per person each year. But as a healthy, protein-rich option, sustainable seafood is an excellent choice. Want to dive deeper? Check out these handy guides from FishWatch and Monterey Bay Aquarium for more options, recipes, tips on what to look for when purchasing seafood, and more!

National Seafood Month: The Power of the Local Consumer

October is National Seafood Month! To celebrate, I spoke with Andrea Tomlinson, General Manager of New Hampshire Community Seafood, an organization committed to supporting the state’s

Andrea Tomlinson, General Manager of New Hampshire Community Seafood. Photo courtesy NHCS
Andrea Tomlinson, General Manager of New Hampshire Community Seafood. Photo courtesy NHCS

fishing industry and ensuring community access to fresh, locally caught seafood.

We hear a lot about sustainable seafood in New England, but what does it really mean, and how can we, as consumers (and seafood lovers), impact the future of the fishing industry – all the while eating more healthy fish?

AY: What is “sustainable seafood”?

AT: I think few people understand what it really means – as more people use the term, it seems to have lost meaning. For me, sustainable seafood simply means that our fishermen are only taking an amount of a particular population that does not prevent parent fish from reproducing at the same level the following year. If fishermen leave the pregnant and older fish alone, and take just the younger fish, it’s more likely to be sustainable. The fish population must be able to sustain itself while also being fished for commercial purposes.

AY: Do you think most of the industry fishes this way?

AT: No. In the past, it was a free for all. Fishermen took whatever they wanted — cod was our fish, there was lots of it, so we took lots of it. Today, our small New England fishermen are still fishing the same amount (and taking the parent fish), but there are other, bigger players in the game. Once cod was shown to be a successful industry, the number of fishermen increased – and now the populations are suffering because of it.

Our local fishermen never had to be conscious about [the amount they could catch] before. In order to stay in business, you want to take the biggest and most fish you can. When you take this traditional way of fishing and compound it with new catch regulations (and a perceived lack of communication from those enforcing the regulations), and more and bigger players fishing in the area, that’s how we ended up where we are today, with the fishing industry in crisis.

AY: What are “underutilized fish” (formerly called “trash fish”) and how could they help the industry and/or economy?

New England is home to an abundance of the spiny dogfish shark. Photo courtesy of NHCS
New England is home to an abundance of the spiny dogfish shark. Photo courtesy of NHCS

AT: In New England, there are certain types of fish that we have a lot of, but that just aren’t as popular as cod or haddock. There’s the dogfish shark, which is a shark but they are small – about

three-and-a-half to four feet in length. In Europe, they are commonly used in fish and chips. Here in New England, we have lots of it. So much so, that they are almost considered overpopulated, making it a great alternative for consumers, especially since whatever you can do with cod, you can do with dogfish.

AY: But it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

AT: Right. When people hear “shark” and “dogfish,” they don’t like that. But as soon as you tell them how to prepare it, and that it holds up well in the freezer, and it seasons well, and is cheap – that makes a difference.

AY: Are there other underutilized fish in New England?

AT: There’s the King Whiting, a type of Silver Hake. It’s a delectable, thick, firm white fish that’s high in protein and omega-3s. It’s good for grilling or sautéing, and the fillet is just as large as one from a cod or haddock. And there’s also the Monkfish, which is an incredibly scary-looking fish on the outside – and delicious on the inside. We hear it called the “poor man’s lobster.” It tastes just like lobster, but for a fraction of the price.

AY: How does a Community Supported Fishery work? Is this model feasible in other places?

AT: The way fishing in New England works now, most fishermen sell everything they catch all at once at an auction, instead of buying directly “off the boat.” So, as a Community Supported Fishery, or CSF, New Hampshire Community Seafood gives the fishermen an incentive – we’d give them, say, an extra $0.25 per pound of a certain fish that’s higher than what they would receive at an auction. For dogfish, it’s actually a $1.10 per pound incentive! A CSF is really the only way to buy off the boat now. We buy a small portion of what the local fishermen catch, but it’s something.

There are about 50 CSFs in the United States. On land, we’ve seen a growing popularity in supporting the local farmer, and this fits in well with that model. You pay up front, and get what’s ripe each week – it works the same way with fish. Community members can support local fishermen and the local economy in this way. So, the challenge is to get people to realize that underutilized fish are just as delicious as cod and haddock.

In New England in particular, when people hear that the fishing industry is in crisis, that affects them. Many who grew up here are enamored by our iconic fishing traditions – maybe they have good memories of fishing, or they feel that it’s a big part of the culture. When you add in the “locavore” mentality, as well as those who are trying to eat healthier, we see a real opportunity to appeal to a lot of people.

AY: So consumers can have a real impact here.

AT: Yes. The fish are there – all we need is more consumers and more buyers, and it can make a greater impact. We are also working with restaurants and chefs; they will buy underutilized fish and put it on the menu, creating more exposure and making it easier for consumers to try something new. Right now we are in 10 restaurants and a hospital cafeteria, and are continuing to expand.

AY: How can people get involved?

AT: We are mostly based in Portsmouth, NH, but our CSF has 17 pickup locations in New Hampshire, one in Northern Massachusetts, and we’re partnering with Monadnock food cooperative in Keene, NH. (All of these are listed on the New Hampshire Community Seafood website). We also have a newsletter that informs locals about what’s new, how to cook underutilized fish, recipes, and more.

AY: Anything else you would like to add?

AT: Three years ago, there were 26 local fishermen in New Hampshire, and now there are only 9 left. We buy fish from all of them. The industry is in desperate need of support, both from communities and from the NMFS [regulators].

In addition to community-supported fishing organizations like NHCS, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Out of the Blue series aims to educate the public about abundant fish that are well-managed and are not harvested primarily due to low market demand.

And NOAA recently announced the public availability of fishwatch.gov, a resource that provides up-to-date information about fish, including the ability to look up a certain fish to see where it’s available, whether it’s a smart and sustainable option, nutrition information, and more.

Would you (or have you) tried dogfish, whiting, or monkfish? Leave a comment below!

 

Fish Friday: A Rollercoaster of Demand for Atlantic Pollock

Atlantic PollockFriday, Friday, gotta read Fish (on) Friday. Last week, we featured a shark, and before that, a pretty little rosefish. But today, we have a real fish’s fish for you – a greenish, scaly, schooling creature with barbels and a classic fishy silhouette – the Atlantic pollock.

You are probably very familiar with this fish’s close relative, the cod, and you may even know about the Alaskan pollock – one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world. But have you ever heard of the Atlantic pollock?

Pollachius virens range. Image via NOAA Fishwatch.PollockGOM

To be even more specific, we’re talking about Pollachius virens, the species of pollock living in the Northwestern Atlantic (not to be confused with Pollachius pollachius, the Eastern Atlantic species). These guys are most common on the western Scotian Shelf, on Georges Bank, and in the Gulf of Maine (see map). Juveniles feed on crustaceans and small fish, while adults feed primarily on other fish. They may grow up to 3.5 feet long and live up to 23 years.

Ignored, Overfished, and then Ignored Once Again

Before the 1980s, Atlantic pollock were primarily harvested as bycatch. However, demand grew steadily, peaking in 1986. By 1994, the stock crashed due to overfishing. Strict management regulations were quickly put in place, and the population rebounded. By 2010, the Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine pollock stocks were 115% above target population levels. Today, the species is managed under the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan.

Much like the Acadian redfish and Atlantic spiny dogfish, the recovery of this species was a mega management victory. But the ecological recovery of Atlantic pollock came at a price – while the stocks were rebuilding, the Atlantic pollock fishery was largely ignored. So much so that even today, it is an afterthought compared to the Gulf of Maine cod, haddock, and flounder fisheries.

In 2014, only 26% of the potential harvest was actually caught. Why are we heavily overfishing some fish populations, while ignoring healthy Atlantic pollock stocks? Because there isn’t demand for Atlantic pollock – at least, not yet. As with three of our previously featured underutilized species (silver hake, Acadian redfish, and Atlantic spiny dogfish), the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Out of the Blue campaign is working to create consumer support for sustainable seafood, as well as incentivize restaurants to use these underappreciated species. Check out their Seafood Dining Series to sample local, responsibly harvested seafood masterpieces, or try whipping up some Atlantic pollock for yourself with these cooking tips!

Bon Appétit!

While landings peak from November to January, Atlantic pollock are typically available year-round. They’re very low in saturated fat and are a great source of protein, vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium. You can find them as whole, as fillets, and as fresh, frozen, or smoked steaks – but make sure you’re buying Atlantic pollock, not Alaskan pollock, for a local meal! The Alaskan pollock fishery is well-managed and stocks are not overfished, but eating fish from the Pacific won’t help incentivize Gulf of Maine fishermen to harvest underutilized species. We need to build a demand for sustainable seafood from our own backyard!

The firm, white meat of Alantic pollock has a sweet, delicate flavor and is great for dishes such as Atlantic pollock in cartoccio with preserved blood orange (basically an easy, delicious, fancy fish cooked in a bag). Or if you’re a fish sandwich kind of person, you could try an island spiced pollock sandwich with sautéed spinach, tomato, avocado and cherry pepper aioli. Yum!

Hungry yet? What are you waiting for? Make room for Atlantic Pollock!

Happy National Seafood Month!

October is National Seafood Month—a great time to think about the sustainability of our seafood and how our personal choices can help keep our oceans healthy! According to NOAA Fisheries, the average American eats 14 to 16 pounds of seafood a year; with a U.S. population of 319 million people (U.S. Census), that’s 4,466 to 5,104 million pounds per year!

How can our oceans possibly sustain such a booming seafood market? NOAA Fisheries provides one simple answer: habitat protection. Over the summer, NOAA Fisheries released a video titled, “Healthy Habitat: The Foundation of America’s Seafood and Fisheries,” to address the importance of ocean habitat protection, not only for marine organisms, but for us as well!

When it comes to sustainable fisheries New England, unfortunately, has a pretty poor track record. The region is known for historic overfishing, disappointing fisheries management, and sadly, the recent collapse of the Gulf of Maine cod fishery—the iconic fish of our region.

New England fisheries are far from perfect—very, very far. But, in the spirit of National Seafood Month you can educate yourself about sustainably-sourced fish and make smarter, more informed consumer choices. The New England Aquarium has its own list of “ocean friendly seafood species,” as well as delicious recipes that you can try.

Also, it is important now more than ever to take NOAA’s message to heart and protect precious marine habitat. Cashes Ledge—located in the center of our own Gulf of Maine— is one such habitat that we can help protect.

Cashes Ledge is an underwater mountain range whose unique environmental conditions produce a biodiversity hotspot for marine life. On Cashes Ledge, nutrient- and oxygen-rich water at the ledge’s peak give rise to the largest kelp forest on the Atlantic seaboard and a rich diversity of species ranging from bottom-dwelling sea stars, sea anemones, and purple sponges to highly endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Closed to destructive fishing practices for over a decade, Cashes Ledge and surrounding areas are in danger of being reopened to commercial bottom-trawling—a proposal that would ultimately destroy the habitat and further decimate the remaining cod population. National Seafood Month is a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of sustainable fishing practices and its associated benefits associated. Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is asking NOAA Fisheries to permanently protect Cashes Ledge and maintain it as an ecologically important area and healthy habitat for marine life.

You can help CLF to protect New England ocean habitat by signing our protection for Cashes Ledge petition here.

Photo credit: Ray Troll and Terry Pyles poster, NOAA Fisheries