Monday, September 9, 2013

Rant: Should We Take Fish Lessons From Maine?

Maine is a popular dining destination for seafood, especially lobster, and some exceptional restaurants can be found in Maine, in places such as Portland and Ogunquit. It also appears that Maine might be able to give Massachusetts some lessons in seafood, and not just in recipes.

However, let us first consider the fact that cod is getting more difficult to find on restaurant menus, as well as more expensive. That is partially due to the recent, significant catch reductions put in place by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC). Two of their cuts included a 77% reduction on the Gulf of Maine cod limits and a 61% reduction on Georges Bank cod limits. The Council based the need for these cuts on scientific evidence that assessments of these species are at record lows. What are consumers to do?

As I wrote back in February, "People need to diversify their taste and embrace the less common fish available, which usually are less expensive and more sustainable." Doing this would not only help rebuild dwindling fish stocks, but would also aid fishermen who have had difficulty selling some of these less popular fish. These underutilized fish can be used to prepare a variety of tasty seafood dishes, and consumers would enjoy these fish if they only gave them a chance.

Maybe we need to take an example from a number of Maine restaurants which are addressing this very issue. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute has created a program called Out Of The Blue, " build markets for underutilized and under-appreciated Gulf of Maine species." With nearly 40 participating restaurants and food service companies, the program consists of 10 day promotions of specific species of local seafood on their menus. In 2013, the promotions included redfish, mackerel, dogfish, whiting and pollock. The next promotion will be held September 13-22, to promote whiting.

This program has even led to at least one Maine restaurant, the Inn By The Sea, to now serve only 100% Gulf of Maine seafood. This helps sustainability and local fishermen. As the U.S. imports a stunning 91% of the their seafood, any restaurant that supports only local seafood is doing a great job at supporting local fishermen and worthy of our support.

I would love to see a similar program instituted in Massachusetts, to see dozens of local restaurants uniting to promote underutilized seafood in weekly promotions. It would be easy enough to do. The hardest part is the will of the restaurants to take that step, and then the will of the public to support the promotions by patronizing the restaurants and supporting the use of those fish. We already have restaurants that promote sustainable seafood, and they would be the best at organizing at promotions of these underutilized fish.

So which Massachusetts restaurants are brave enough to take the first steps to such a program of weekly promotions for underutilized fish?

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