Thursday, March 14, 2013

International Boston Seafood Show: Some Highlights

To me the sea is a continual miracle; The fishes that swim–the rocks–the motion of the waves–the ships, with men in them, What stranger miracles are there?
--Walt Whitman

The 2013 International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) is now over and it is nearly time for this Fish Head Whisperer to take a rest. The 3rd Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest at IBSS 2013 is also winding down, and will end at midnight on March 15. This is a special contest for Boston area bloggers in which they compete to offer the best coverage of the seafood show. An impartial third party judges the contest and the top prize is a hefty $1000. I am certainly competitive so am working hard this year to try to win it. I would cover the Seafood Show even if the contest did not exist, but the contest provides some added incentive.

I was the champion of the 1st Annual iPura Tweet & Blogfest and in their 2nd Annual Contest, they added a prize for Best Coverage of Seafood Sustainability (sponsored by Global G.A.P.), which I won. This year, it appears there will only be a single prize for best overall coverage so I am working toward becoming the champion once again.

It was a long but fruitful three days at the IBSS, meeting great people, learning plenty, tasting delicious seafood and finding fascinating stories. I have already posted a number of articles about the IBSS and here I want to provide a general overview and highlight some other matters which I previously have not yet mentioned. There will be a few omissions here as I also have a few more articles about the IBSS to post.

Last year, I posted the Twelve Things You Should Know about the IBSS. That article provide an idea of the scope, diversity and depth of the seafood show, and give you reasons why you should attend it. Nearly all of those twelve points are still applicable so I won't repeat them here again. I will only note any changes and additions. The numbering system here does not coincide with that prior article but I will reference the prior numbers when applicable.

1. It is a huge event (#2 last year). 
Continuing its trend, this year's IBSS was their largest ever, with over 1000 companies exhibiting in approximately 1850 booths. The attendance was expected to be over 19,000 attendees. Despite the large number of attendees, it is still relatively easy to navigate through the hall and there rarely is a significant line at any booth. You can also make appointments prior to the show with any exhibitors if you desire.

2. It is very international in scope (#3 last year). 
Last year, about 42 different countries exhibited at IBSS and this year saw an increase to 46. Growth continues each year.

3. Shrimp is dominant but salmon is ubiquitous (#8 last year).
As it was last year, shrimp was the seafood available from the most amount of exhibitors at IBSS. However, samples of shrimp were much rarer. Salmon is the second most available seafood yet it seemed like the top choice because so many samples of salmon were available. That makes sense as salmon occupies the #1 spot in fin fish, about 37.8% of the dollar share with tilapia at #2 with 25.2% dollar share. Last year, salmon increased 16.2% in total dollars and salmon prices decreased 7.3% to $7.24 per pound.

4. Sustainability is prevalent (#9 last year)
Seafood sustainability continued to be a prominent topic this year. Some of the seminars on this topic includes: Tuna Forum, Seafood Sustainability in the Developing World, and Perceptions of Sustainable Seafood Production & Marketing. It seemed as if there were more signs at the booths too indicating the sustainability of their products.

5. Seafood Mislabeling takes center stage.
After a number of high profile media articles about the problems of mislabeled seafood at restaurants and stores, it is not a surprise that this topic would be addressed at IBSS. There were three seminars on this topic, including Combating Seafood Substitution & Mislabeling: Facts, Fictions & Initiatives, Panel Discussion on Species Substitution, Mislabeling & Fraud and Convergence of Seafood Traceability & Species-Identity Technologies. This is an issue that the seafood industry needs to address, and quickly, to ensure confidence in the seafood industry. Americans already don't eat enough seafood and scandals such as this don't help.

6. Caviar was prominent.
I usually see one or two caviar exhibitors at IBSS but this year there seemed to be far more. There were about 18 exhibitors with caviar though maybe 6 or 7 exhibitors who showcased it prominently at their booths. And the emphasis seems to be on sustainable caviar, which please me immensely. Two caviars even ended up in my Food of Interest post. Seems that luxury products like caviar may be rising in popularity, despite our tough economic conditions. That is surprising but maybe it is indicative that positive change is coming.

7. McDonald's supports sustainable seafood.
There are probably few people who have not heard the new "Fishy Fishy" commercial from McDonald's which introduces their new Fish McBites. These bite-sized pieces of fried fish are made from wild-caught, Alaskan pollock. And most importantly, they are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwiches are also made from this MSC certified pollock. Over 14,000 McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. have received MSC certification. This is huge as McDonald's is such a dominant restaurant and could expose many more people to the idea of seafood sustainability. It also shows other large chain restaurants that they too can carry sustainable fish in an affordable way. Though there do not appear to be sales figures for the new Fish McBites yet, overall McDonald's has recently posted a financial loss. Hopefully more people who do patronize McDonald's start eating more fish.

8. Maine lobster certified as sustainable.
At IBSS, it was announced that the Maine lobster fishery has received the Marine Stewardship Council’s Sustainable Seafood Certification. Governor Paul LePage stated, “The Marine Stewardship Council’s certification will provide the Maine lobster industry with a globally-recognized seal of approval.” This should give a boost to this local fishing community and will also allow them to penetrate additional markets. Some of the large chain supermarkets, such as Walmart, will only carry MSC-certified seafood. So, even if a fishery was sustainable, a lack of MSC certification could prevent them from access to Walmart. And there is no substitute for a tasty Maine lobster. Spiny lobsters just are not the same.

9. Sable fish rocks!
Some of my favorite samples at the IBSS were sable fish, also known as butterfish or Alaskan black cod. In Boston, sable fish hit the news when the Boston Globe accused Ming Tsai of mislabeling his fish, by using the term butter fish rather than the more proper sable fish. Sable fish are found in the North Pacific and Alaska boasts the largest population in the world. Sable fish is very sustainable and is very good for you as it is high in Omega-3s. The flesh has a high fat content so it can be prepared in a myriad of ways, and even an amateur cook will find it difficult to prepare it poorly. It is delicious, with a soft, velvety texture, which is why it is sometimes called butter fish. Nearly 20 exhibitors had sablefish, though it still seems rare on Boston menus. Boston area chefs, bring on the sable fish!

10. The media needs to stop fear mongering.
At two different seminars, and in discussions with multiple people at IBSS, the issue was raised that the media far too often mentions the risks of consuming seafood rather than the benefits. In fact, their negative articles appear to be four times as great as their positive articles. This is despite overwhelming evidence from many scientists and health professionals that the health benefits of eating seafood far outweigh any minor risks such as from mercury/PCBs. Such fear mongering obviously raises attention and sells more newspapers and magazines but it does a disservice to the public. People need to eat seafood at least twice a week, and should not generally worry about it. The seafood industry needs to be more proactive in trying to get media to tell more positive stories. They also need to educate consumers more, to show them that their fears are essentially baseless.

"Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish."

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