Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Because of these dinners, one restaurant is demonized by some seafood sustainability proponents while no one criticizes the other restaurant. There is a major disconnect there, a strange incongruity in the treatment of these restaurants. I am seeking the reasons for that disconnect but have yet to uncover the rationale.
In yesterday's Rant, I raised some issues with the upcoming Head to Tail Fin Dinner being held by Chef Richard Garcias of 606 Congress. I had emailed Chef Garcias about the issues, and though I did not receive an email reply, I did speak with 606 Congress on Twitter and Chef Garcias also posted a detailed response on his blog, Chef's Daily Food Bank.
First, Chef Garcias claims that they are not hosting a "blacklisted" seafood dinner, though he does not dispute that the Seafood Watch has Cod (which was also served at the Legal Sea Foods dinner) and Monkfish are on the Avoid list. It is clearly the intent of Chef Garcias to serve only sustainable seafood but a couple of his choices are not without controversy. And in the original publicity for the dinner, no mention was made concerning this controversy. So why didn't sustainable seafood proponents raise this issue? Are they just not paying attention? Or has the Seafood Watch program lost its relevance?
Second, Chef Garcias claims that the Seafood Watch fails to mention some aspects of the monkfish issue. He relies more on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which offers a different opinion than Seafood Watch, stating that monkfish are sustainable. He also said that the restaurant works directly with fisherman, scientists and environmental teams in determining the sustainability of seafood. Chef Garcias stated: "But there are so many factors that play into why a species may be blacklisted by one organization and considered to be a good choice by others." His thoughts echo much that was previously stated by Roger Berkowitz of Legal Sea Foods. I also am largely in agreement with these basic thoughts, and have previously voiced my own concerns about a blind adherence to these seafood lists.
Third, Chef Garcias provided detailed sustainability information on all of the seafood used in the dinner. Though it is admirable that he has presented this information, I have some concerns about his details about the monkfish. It states, in part, that: "Although deepwater gill nets and trawlers can have some negative environmental impact, gear restrictions and by catch laws have made this a fishery that is moving in the right direction." What bothers me is that Chef Garcias acknowledges the fishing may be causing some environmental damage, although it is on the road of improvement. One of the main concerns of the Seafood Watch with monkfish was the environmental damage caused by trawling. So, it seems inaccurate to say that monkfish is currently 100% sustainable, but rather it would be more proper to state the industry has gotten much better and will continue to improve.
I like much of what Chef Garcias said in his response to me, and much also echoes what I have previously stated and written about on the topic of seafood sustainability. It also is very similar to what Roger Berkowitz previously presented. Yet I still lack an answer as to why the sustainable seafood community did not publicly step forward to question the use of cod and monkfish in the Head to Tail Fin Dinner. They were quick to pounce on Legal Sea Foods for the same issue, so why did they do nothing now?
The main difference appears to be that Legal Sea Foods chose to be openly provocative while 606 Congress chose to be more under the radar. So was Legal an easy and obvious target, while 606 Congress was more subtle and required some effort to discern? Or is Legal considered a proper target because it is seen as more corporate? It is wrong to treat these restaurants differently when they essentially did the same thing, using seafood that is listed as Avoid on the Seafood Watch list.
So I still seek some answers to my questions from the sustainable seafood community.
But thanks very much to Chef Garcias for his responses.