Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rant: Another Blacklisted Seafood Dinner in Boston?

Back in January, there was a firestorm of controversy over a "blacklisted" seafood dinner held by Legal Sea Foods. The dinner offered Atlantic cod, white hake and Vietnamese farmed shrimp, all which are listed as Avoid on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list. Some of the reactions to this dinner were extreme, such as a call for a boycott of Legal Sea Foods, before the dinner even took place! My own response was more neutral, allowing Legal the chance to present their position on this blacklisted seafood at their dinner.

Roger Berkowitz, the President and CEO of Legal, certainly was intentionally provocative but he also wanted to open a discussion into important seafood sustainability issues. I followed up with Berkowitz after the dinner, for additional information on some of what he said during the dinner, such as on the Vietnamese shrimp farm and the OAWRS detection system. I am unaware of anyone else who followed up on these issues after that blacklisted dinner.

Next month, there will be another dinner with "blacklisted" seafood yet I have yet to see any opposition, criticism or controversy. In fact, the dinner appears to be supported by a number of sustainability groups, including Chefs Collaborative and Slow Food Boston. The advertisements for the dinner do not indicate the "blacklisted" status of any of the seafood, and in fact touts itself as a sustainable seafood dinner. Something doesn't seem right to me.

How is this dinner any different from the Legal Sea Foods dinner? Why is there no opposition, criticism or controversy? Why are sustainability groups supporting a dinner with blacklisted seafood?  Is it merely a matter of presentation, where Legal chose to be provocative while this other dinner has chosen to be more under the radar? Is Legal a convenient "enemy"? Won't this further confuse the public, who already have difficulty understanding sustainability issues?

On October 13, Chef Richard Garcias of 606 Congress will present a Head to Tail Fin Dinner, with a menu including Monkish Carpaccio and Deep Fried Cod Tongue and Cheek.  The Seafood Watch lists Monkfish as an Avoid. Atlantic Cod, which was also on the Legal Sea Foods blacklisted dinner, may also be an Avoid, dependent on the method of catch. So how do we know that these two menu items are sustainable or not? And why does it seem no one is questioning them? There seems to be a disconnect here, where one restaurant receives opposition for its blacklisted fish but another seemingly receives a free pass.  And that is not just.

I have emailed Chef Garcias about the Monkfish and am awaiting his response. It might very well be sustainable, but that does not change the fact that it is on the Avoid list and no one is speaking up about it. Such issues should be addressed up front, and not seemingly swept under the rug. What would the average consumer think if they consulted the Seafood Watch and saw that monkfish was Avoid, yet sustainability groups were supporting the dinner? It would only cause confusion, and consumers need clarity about these issues.

In addition, one restaurant should not be demonized for serving a "blacklisted" seafood dinner while another restaurant, doing the same thing, is supported and praised. The same rules should apply across the board to any restaurant serving "blacklisted" seafood. Sustainability groups take notice!


lynneguica said...

Rich is working very closely with the the Trace & Trust program so I am sure that is is sustainable. He is very much commited to that. http://www.traceandtrust.com/

Jane Ward said...

Another thought provoking article. I hope you hear back and keep readers posted about what you learn. All good questions.