Friday, March 15, 2013

Eat More U.S. Seafood: The Gulf Coast

In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans.
--Kahlil Gibran

As I previously Ranted, I am disturbed that the U.S. imports 91% of their seafood, up 5% from 2010. It is unbelievable that less than 10% of the seafood we consume is from our own country. We need to give much more support to our local fisheries, to savor and cherish the abundance of seafood that is available from our shores. When I was at International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS), I wanted to highlight at least a few domestic fisheries, to showcase the reasons why consumers should choose U.S. seafood.

In New England, we have some amazing seafood, but there are concerns about depleted fish stocks. Consider the recent drastic cuts to the allowable catches of cod due to severely low stocks. The rest of the country also has fish species which are unavailable in our waters. Though we need to support our New England fisheries, that doesn't mean we can't also support other U.S. fisheries. For example, rather than purchase foreign shrimp, we could purchase shrimp from the Gulf region.

At IBSS, I spent some time talking with representatives of the Gulf Coast Seafood coalition, which includes Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. The Gulf of Mexico is a fertile marine region, and yields a greater number of fin fish, shrimp, and shellfish annually than the south and mid-Atlantic, Chesapeake, and New England regions combined. The Gulf produces about 82% of the U.S. total of shrimp and 59% of the total of oysters. Why shouldn't we enjoy this rich bounty?

Much of my time was spent time chatting with Chef Justin Timineri, the executive chef and culinary ambassador of the Florida Dept. of Agriculture, as well as several other Gulf representatives. Chef Timineri is also the resident chef on How To Do Florida, a television series where he primarily discusses and cooks seafood. Chef Timineri was very personable, and obviously passionate about Gulf seafood.

One of Chef Timineri's primary goals is to get people comfortable with eating and cooking seafood. He shows them how to simply prepare seafood at home, to reduce the intimidation factor so that they are more apt to eat seafood. He suggests that they start with easier seafood, such as shrimp and clams, and then work their way up to fin fish. That is good advice for people all over the country and not just in the Gulf. To get more people to enjoy seafood, they need to be led there, to have it made easier for them.

Many people complain about the higher price of seafood, and there is validity that seafood often costs more than other proteins. However, Chef Timineri rightly pointed out that such people ignore the long term price of eating cheap processed food. Though seafood might be more expensive in the short term, its great health benefits more than outweigh the long term price of processed foods. People need to consider the long term rather than the short. In addition, they need to consider portion sizes, and they don't need to buy huge pieces of fish to have a good meal.

The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are rich in nutrients, providing great flavor to the seafood. That means that the seafood can be enjoyed with only simple preparation and Chef Timineri enjoys creating recipes with light preparations. Last year, I asked a number of Gulf fisheries whether the BP oil disaster of 2010 still plagued their waters or not. In general, they all answered in the negative and this year, the answer was the same. The waters are clean and consumer confidence is high. As for any worries of mercury/PCBs, Chef Timineri advised that people diversify what they eat, similar advice to what others have said at IBSS.

With sustainability being so important, the Gulf region has been working on numerous initiatives to indicate the sustainability of their fisheries, such as 3rd party certifications. For example, the Louisiana blue crab fishery became Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified in 2012, the first such blue crab fishery to acquire that certification. The Gulf region has also recently instituted the Gulf Seafood Trace program, a way to track exactly where seafood comes from. This is a way to tell the story of the seafood, a way to help market their seafood as well as show its traceability. Approximately 56 seafood businesses, 25% of the total amount, are currently part of this program.

The seafood in the Gulf is seasonal and it is worthwhile to purchase what is in season, as it will tend to be less expensive then, as well as at its best taste. Chef Timineri wants to emphasize that Gulf seafood is very flavorful and is also some of the most highly tested seafood in the U.S. The top three seafoods in the Gulf are shrimp, oysters and then blue crab. I asked Chef Timineri his favorite Gulf seafood and he said Stone Crab Claws, followed by Pompano. Outside the Gulf, he prefers King/Snow Crab.

The Gulf contains some intriguing creatures and ways to cultivate them.

In Florida, they raise alligators for their meat. Chef Timineri states that alligator is great to cook and versatile as well as high in protein and low in fat. He likes to make gator chili or Italian dishes like piccata, treating gator like veal. He also feels that the ribs are unique and he has even been experimenting with the tongue.

Stone crabs possess a large crusher claw which contains delicious meat. It is sustainable in a more unique way. Fishermen can tear off the claw and then throw the crab back into the water, where the crab will regenerate its claw although it appears the crab can only do this three or four times during its life.

Gulf oysters are often triploids, sterile creatures that put their energy into growth rather than reproduction. They are plump, with good color and have a nice salinity, though they are less briny than oysters in New England. They are grown in cages near the top of the water so there is less waste. In addition, as the cages can be easily moved, the oysters can be tailored to meet specific demands, such as creating a larger cup in the shell.

So why aren't you enjoying more seafood from the Gulf?

1 comment:

Paul Smith said...

I enjoyed reading this publishing. Of course, we are enjoying more seafood from the Gulf. As always, you are great! Yes, the alligator is great to cook! The majority of students refer to the best essay editing service to boost their poor writings! Thanks for your support!