Thursday, April 18, 2013

Buy American Seafood: Four Excellent Choices

It is disturbing that Americans currently import 91% of their seafood, up 5% from 2010. Less than 10% of the seafood we consume is from our own country. That is a disheartening statistic and I previously Ranted about this issue, imploring Americans to eat more domestic seafood. Paul Greenberg, a writer, speaker and author of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, understands this issue and he too strongly recommends that we should purchase more American seafood.

In the new issue of Food & Wine (May 2013), Greenberg wrote an article, Sustainable Seafood: The Good News, offering four excellent and sustainable seafood choices for Americans. These options include Pacific Spot Prawn, Northern Porgy, Atlantic Sea Scallop and Gulf of Mexico Bycatch. Look for these seafoods on restaurant menus, in the supermarket, at farmers' markets and other spots where you purchase seafood.

Though Pacific Spot Prawn is a specific species (Pandalus platyceros), two related species are also sometimes marketed as spot prawn, including Sidestripe Shrimp (Pandalopsis dispar) and Coonstripe Shrimp (Pandalus hypsinotis). They can be found in the Pacific Northwest, British Colombia and Alaska. These are highly sustainable, significantly because of the method of catch. Most other shrimp are caught by trawl nets but spot prawn are captured in small pots, reminiscent of lobster traps. These pots have very little bycatch and cause little, if any, environmental damage. One intriguing fact about spot prawn is that they are protandric hermaphrodites, meaning that they begin their life as a male and later transform into a female for the rest of their life.

These large shrimp can grow to nearly 12 inches in length, which might bring to mind a lobster, and they taste delicious. They can be grilled, steamed, baked or even served as sushi. Greenberg claims that they taste so rich that eating more than a dozen causes a "spot prawn coma." Previously, most spot prawns were sent to Japan but American restaurants and fish markets are starting to see the benefits of spot prawns. Keep an eye out for them!  

Northern Porgy, also known as Scup, are located in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and they are an example of how fisheries can bring back endangered fish. During the 1990s, porgy was considered endangered due to overfishing so tough regulations were put into place to hopefully bring back the species. This was a great success and in 2009, the species was considered officially rebuilt and stocks are now high. One of the problems had been that squid trawlers caught too much porgy as bycatch so changes to the squid fisheries helped greatly limit this from occurring.

Porgy are available year round, and the fish itself is small, generally weighing around two pounds. They have a mild, but compelling taste, and a fluffy texture, making them versatile in cooking. They can be a good substitute rather than tilapia or flounder.  However, they are still an underutilized species which needs to be promoted more by restaurants and fish markets.

Scallops are a popular seafood but people should realize that Atlantic Sea Scallops are a sustainable choice. Like Porgy, Atlantic Sea Scallops were endangered back in the 1990s but the industry has rebounded and by 2001, the industry was once again sustainable. One beneficial side effect of these new fishing regulations is that many of the scallops are larger than they once were, as the trawling nets have large openings, allowing smaller scallops to remain in the sea. I love scallops and encourage people to seek out Atlantic Sea Scallops.

Greenberg's final recommendation is not a single species but an entire category, Gulf of Mexico bycatch. He mentions that seafood distributor Louisiana Foods created a program, Total Catch, which is a means to sell bycatch from Gulf fishermen. Though some might consider some of these bycatch species to be "trashfish," chefs and home cooks can easily make delicious meals from these varied species. Unfortunately, the Louisiana Foods website has little information, or little easily found, on their Total Catch program beside a listing of seafood. They apparently have a bycatch market at their retail space, and it appears they can also sell these bycatch species all across the U.S. as they do the rest of their seafood. Selling bycatch is certainly an intriguing and sustainable idea, which simply requires consumers to be more open to the types of seafood they will consume.

Eat more domestic seafood, and I hope these four recommendations from Paul Greenberg help motivate you.


Andrew M said...

Vilifying imports is not the answer. Is it Iceland's fault that they've worked hard for sustainably managed wild fisheries? or the fact that they've pioneered above ground tank aquaculture systems that effectively eliminate waste back into the ecosystem.

Iceland has been in fisheries closures for the past two weeks because their groundfish is spawning. The US sees that as the time to go out and catch all of the groundfish, because they're pre-occupied.

The imports should be praised for their forward thinking fisheries management policies that the US domestic fisheries should be modeling themselves after.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Andrew:
Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, not all imported fish is sustainable. There are certainly ones that are, including Icelandic fisheries, but there are plenty that are not. I also am not telling Americans not to import sustainable fish. I am suggesting though that they eat more domestic, sustainable seafood. And I would rather they purchase sustainable imported seafood over domestic, unsustainable seafood.