Friday, April 7, 2017

SENA17: "We Don't Know How To Talk About Seafood"

"We don't know how to talk about seafood."

It might seem strange to hear that sentiment spoken at the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), but if you think more carefully about it, maybe it is the perfect place to discuss this statement.

The first conference session I attended at SENA was "How Can Market Measures Promote Sustainable Seafood Production and Consumption" which was intended to discuss the following: "What is the current situation, where are we headed, and how can we insure that sustainable practices are adopted to meet future demand? First, a statistical overview of global trends (FAO stats) in seafood production, consumption and trade, along with a comparison of model projections (FAO/OECD/WB) of future production and utilization. Second, identification of key factors that hinder sustainable production, consumption and trade of fish products that threaten our future seafood supplies, global food security, and achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals."

The Moderator was Victoria Chomo,  a PhD economist specializing in international trade and development who is currently a Senior Fishery Officer in the Products, Trade and Marketing Branch of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). There were also four expert speakers, including: John Connelly, the President of the National Fisheries Institute (a trade association advocating for the full seafood supply chain); John Henderschedt, the Director of the Office of International Affairs and the Seafood Inspection at NOAA Fisheries; Niklas Wehner, Advisor at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); and Barton Seaver, of the Sustainable Seafood & Health Initiative at the Center for Health & the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Initially, Victoria Chomo began discussing the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is involved in food security and sustainability. In September 2015, U.N. members agreed to a series of sustainability goals, adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For this conference session, they concentrated on Goal #12, "Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns." However, Goal #14, "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources", would probably also be applicable here.

We then proceeded to learn about the worldwide role of seafood and how integral it is to the global economy and more. The global fish & seafood value chain was estimated at approximately $818 Billion in 2008. That can be broken down into Capture Fisheries $100 Billion, Aquaculture $98 Billion, Primary Processing $90 Billion, Secondary Processing $180 Billion, and Distribution $350 Billion. It is the most highly traded food commodity in the world. About 880 million people, 12% of the world population, subsist on these fish & seafood value chains for their livelihood.

About 3 billion people rely on seafood for more than 20% of their animal protein intake, and some as much as 50%. Unfortunately, approximately 30% of seafood production ends up as waste, which is a significant problem for our entire food industry. It is predicted that aquaculture will rise to 57% within the next 10 years, necessary to help feed the world's growing population. Though some oppose increased aquaculture, its conversion efficiency is better than terrestrial proteins, including beef, pork and chicken. In addition, it has very low on emissions with bivalves have the lowest.

John Connelly then spoke, first noting that most people, except for governments and NGOs, don't talk in terms of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This term needs to be translates into business practices. He also mentioned that he believes it is the government's responsibility to ensure sustainability as it is a common. In addition, he mentioned that the seafood industry wants better communication from the government. For example, he feels that NOAA doesn't talk enough about efficiency and fisheries, caring more about scientific assessments. Finally, addressing the issue of waste, he stated this was a new issue for the industry, which needs to examine the issue much more to learn how and where they can reduce waste. I'm not sure I agree that it is a new issue, though its importance might have only been raised in the recent past.

Next, John Henderschedt stepped up, agreeing with most of what Connelly already said. He added that the government can be informative, telling the market and public about what is sustainable and what is not. He stated that we want informed consumers, educated about seafood sustainability. The final speaker was Niklas Wehner, who discussed the rules of development corporations.

However, it was the speech from Barton Seaver that most resonated with me, which caused me to contemplate much of what he said. He began stating: "We don't know how to talk about seafood." He continued, noting that we don't have a great definition of "sustainable seafood," especially as there are so many elements of sustainability. Seafood often isn't included in discussion about "good food" despite it being maybe the only food with the term "food" actually in it. We need to look at seafood more from a cultural viewpoint.

Seafood suffers from "otherness," being seen as different from other foods. Over time, seafood lost its identity, partially from the advent of refrigeration and a decrease in home cooking. When people commonly think of proteins, they usually don't include seafood in their thoughts. It is also the only food that is considered guilty before being innocent. It is something people think must be analyzed, to determine whether it passes a person's standards or not. These same individuals don't conduct that same analysis with their beef, chicken, or pork.

The culinary aspect of seafood scares people, who feel intimidated when trying to cook seafood. Currently, Americans eat almost only 10 species of fish, 8 if you group the catfish together. Other fish and seafood is not seen as having the same value as these 10. Our fishermen catch so many other species and this is an unsustainable economic situation. We demand the market supply for fish rather than take what is caught. We must all start eating other species of fish and seafood, going beyond the common 10. We need to be less pressure on those common 10 and also help fishermen who catch all the other species. This is an issue I'll be writing about more in the near future.

Barton then raised an issue I hadn't considered before, but which makes much sense. He stated that one of the biggest obstacles to sustainability is the recipe. The problem is that recipes usually are composed to use a specific type of fish. For example, you will find recipes for Cod and Mussels, Salmon and Crab. Some seafood cookbooks break down into chapters for these specific seafood types. However, Barton feels that recipes shouldn't specify the fish type but be more generic, such as a "light, flaky whitefish."

The idea is to encourage home cooks to seek outside the common 10 and use other seafood species, which are similar to the common ones they already enjoy. That is excellent advice, though such a cookbook would probably need to have a list somewhere, grouping seafood species by the generic definitions within the cookbook. For example, the average consumer doesn't know what dogfish is like, so they would need to have some guidance as to what type of recipes it would fit within. Barton also had advice for Chefs, that they should not ask for specific species but should ask for what is fresh. In addition, they should "sell the dish, not the seafood."

Barton then moved on, stating that we need to "end the conversation of wild vs farmed." He feels it is an artificial distinction, that we should treat them both the same and stop arguing about aquaculture. In a recent online article, Barton expanded upon this issue and it is worth a read. He makes numerous valid points and I have long been a proponent of aquaculture as well. You'll find numerous articles on my blog discussing aquaculture.

As Barton says, "Seafood is such an amazing opportunity" and "Seafood sustains us." He also noted how valuable it is for our health, how numerous studies show that eating sufficient seafood can reduce your risk of heart disease by about 36%. A doctor from Tufts once told him of the 3 Ss of good health: Wear Seatbelts, No Smoking, and Eat Seafood.

"Fish lacks story." Barton is not the first sustainable seafood proponent that I have heard make this point, and its validity is without dispute. Barton feels we need to use other methods to connect people to seafood, and shouldn't start with the seafood. We need to connect it more to cultural issues. For example, we can talk about social issues such as the fact that 52% of the people involved in aquaculture are women. Aquaculture provides plenty of jobs and that is a great story. In addition, we should consider the story of how we keep fishermen in business, the civic values of helping members of our community. We all should "Talk about sustainability in any measure that is meaningful to you."

Barton Seaver provided me much to ponder and I hope it helped spark something within my readers as well. People need to eat more seafood, for an abundance of reasons, from improving your own health to helping local fishermen make a living. Stop treating seafood as an enemy and treat it as you would hamburger or fried chicken.

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