Thursday, March 20, 2014

SENA14: Final Ponderings

It is nearly time to wind down my coverage of the Seafood Expo North America, though I assure you that I will continue to write about seafood issues, inspired by items I learned or discovered at the Expo. For this post, I wanted to raise some final questions about seafood issues, thoughts which have struck me this past week. Each of those points is worthy of a full post, but time is needed for the ideas to percolate and come to fruition. Some of these thoughts touch on important themes at the Expo, as well as potential themes for the future. I would love for these final ponderings to develop into conversations and I welcome all comments about these matters.

1. Are people tougher on aquaculture than they are on land agriculture, even factory farms? Do people have higher expectations on seafood over beef, poultry, and pork? It is unquestionable that factory farms have dealt with serious environmental, safety and cruelty charges, a significant portion of those charges being substantiated. There have been many books and articles written about their practices, however, it is still the predominant method of raising land animals and plenty of issues remain. Yet the average consumer has no problem purchasing chicken or beef that came from such a factor farm. That same consumer though may refrain from buying seafood because it is comes from a farm, and it is not wild caught. Why is there such a double standard when it comes to seafood? Bacon may be king, but it can't compare to seafood in providing health benefits.

2. How do we get people to eat more seafood? That is a theme that ran rampant throughout the Expo. We know that Americans only eat an average of 14.4 pounds of seafood annually when they should be eating about 26 pounds. And as the world population increases, with a need for a greater food supply, where will we turn? A number of individuals at the Expo believe aquaculture may be the savior the world needs. Wild caught seafood won't be sufficient, and land animals won't be sufficient either. We will need to farm more seafood, as well as convince people to eat more. For the health benefits alone, to reduce the risk of heart diseases, people should be eating more seafood. But why don't they?  The reasons seem to be several, with cost probably leading the pack. Fear of cooking seafood at home is another big issue, as well as fear of mercury & PCBs. All of these issues can be addressed, but people must unite to make it so.

3. Though the Seafood Expo is a great event, it is primarily a trade event. What about holding a Seafood Expo for the public? It would be an excellent educational forum to teach them how to best buy seafood at the market, choose it at restaurants and how to cook it at home. It could also provide them samples so they could taste a variety of seafood, to hopefully acquire some new favorites and taste fish they might now have otherwise bought. The public could also be better educated on seafood issues, from mercury to aquaculture. I had this conversation with a chef at SENA and noted that a similar event does take place in Vancouver, though many of the attendees show up just for the food, and not for the education. I still think the idea has some potential, though certain matters would need to be worked out to truly make it a benefit for consumers.

4. How do we counter all of the media's scare stories about seafood?  The issue was raised during one of the conference sessions that a study determined negative media articles outnumber positive ones by 4 to 1. The media exaggerates the risk of seafood consumption, knowing that such scare stories sell more newspapers and magazines than stories touting the health benefits of seafood. Maybe more outreach is needed to the media from the industry. Or maybe more support is needed to the media which is presenting a more balanced view. The media contributes to the ignorance of consumers, causing them to shy away from seafood so that obviously needs change.

5. I was disappointed to see that the two local newspapers, the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, have published almost nothing about the Seafood Expo. Besides publishing a brief AP article, I haven't seen anything else from them. Why is that? There is so much at the Expo which is newsworthy, plenty of information that their readers should learn about. It is the largest Seafood Expo in the country, and deserves more than a simple blurb in the newspapers. The seafood trade magazines and newspapers cover the event well. Locally, the best coverage you will find is from a small group of passionate bloggers who have covered the event. This year, there were over a dozen local bloggers in attendance at the Expo and I estimate they will write over 50 articles about the Expo. That is lots of coverage for the Expo, spreading the word about so many important issues, companies and more. Maybe the local newspapers should hire a couple bloggers to write Seafood Expo coverage for them.

6. At a few different conference sessions, education was cited as an important function for the seafood industry. Because of so much misinformation out there, because of the complexity of the issues involved, ways to educate consumers need to be enacted. The media can play a role in this regard, helping to teach consumers about seafood. Sustainability certification was also mentioned as an educational tool. Consumers, rather than have to delve into the complex minutiae of sustainability, merely have to seek a trusted label or logo to know the seafood they buy is sustainable. Education is also important for the industry itself, especially in the sharing of information.

7. The seafood industry appears to be coming around to the idea that working together will be more successful than working on their own. And that collaboration is not just with other seafood companies, but also with conservation group, NGOs, governmental bodies and more. The successful return of the Toothfish is a powerful example of what industry and conservationists working together can accomplish. The new GSI and Sea Pact show growing partnerships, seeking sustainability, which are willing to share technology, information and ideas. They pose great potential for jointly resolving problems that plague the industry. Other such partnerships are likely to form in the near future too. This may be the wave of the future, partnerships working as one to fight the greatest issues of the seafood industry.

8. I think many people forget that the Expo also includes Seafood Processing North America. Processing seafood plays an important role, though one not often discussed. At the Pathways to Sustainability conference though, my eyes were opened when one of the panelists discussed some of the processing improvements that were made. Once, maybe 35% of a fish would be processed as meat, but changes have led to up to 70% of a fish being made into meat. That would be like doubling the yield of a catch, helping to improve sustainability. A hundred pounds of fish could be transformed into 35 pounds of meat or 70 pounds, all dependent on how it is processed. For consumers, it is usually cheaper to buy a while fish rather than fillets. If they process that whole fish at home properly, they can really get lots of meat. I hope this starts making you think about seafood processing more.

9. Is there a significant future for seaweed & algae aquaculture? It isn't an issue I have seen discussed much at the Expo, but it exists if you pay attention. For example, at many of the Asian booths, you'll find seaweed and algae products, laver and nori. Many Americans are familiar with nori from sushi but would they snack on a crisp nori product? This year, one of the exhibitors, almost hidden near the rear of the exhibit hall, was a Maine producer of kelp. I loved the kelp smoothies and kelp savory they offered for sampling. And their kelp farm is sustainable. They are trying to jump start a kelp industry in the U.S. but will it catch on. What are the obstacles? How willing is the average American to opt for farm raised kelp? It is a healthy food but is is appealing enough?

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."
--Jacques Yves Cousteau

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