Friday, June 27, 2008

Now Do I Have To Reconsider Sockeye?

A recent article in the Canadian Paper Globe and Mail highlights the plight of B.C. sockeye.

Trout Unlimited, an Oregon sport fishing and conservancy group has partnered with a supermarket chain to focus on the issue of Bristol Bay and a planned mining operation that could starve the areas rivers of water, and be devastating to salmon stocks.

Marine Harvest doing something to protect wild salmon migratory routes.

Wild Pacific salmon used to be easy, but now with news about bycatch in the pollack fisheries and these new stories we must take a new look.

Just to keep you updated I will be taking home some Pacific chum salmon (aka: keta, dog, silverbright) Oncorhynchus keta.
I will be cooking the fish a few ways, and will post the results.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Trucking Crunch, Seaboard Express Closes the Doors

Late yesterday afternoon I was told by one of my vendors of the pending demise of Seaboard Express, Inc. In business since 1977, the news of this is more problematic than surprising, as it was confirmed by six other reputable seafood purveyors in Boston and New England and from employees within the company. Seaboard Express of New Bedford was one of the larger carriers of fresh and frozen seafood that shipped product up and down the Northeast corridor. We have been hearing for some time how the rising costs of diesel, and less than full loads has increased trucker's costs substantially. So that leaves only a handful of existing carriers to fill the void. This is most likely to lead to increased shipping costs, that will in the short term be absorbed by intermediate parties. But the net result is less competition, and rising costs that will eventually be passed onto the end users. It is always hard to see a company close, so I wish the former employees and principals all the best.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sustainable Shrimp Cocktail

Sustainable Seafood guides recommend using U.S. wild caught shrimp. One type of shrimp that rates high is the diminutive Maine shrimp, pandalus borealis it is also sold as Canadian pink shrimp. It is commonly sold cooked and frozen and could go by the name ti-ti shrimp as well. Many of us had this shrimp in the form of those SauSea jarred shrimp cocktails. You know the ones that were mostly sauce, and came in a container that found a future as an orange juice glass for use at the breakfast table. In some ways that childhood treat is the inspiration for this easy recipe. Though pandalus borealis is not in season right now I had put up some frozen cleaned Maine shrimp meat for just such an occasion. You can purchase the already cooked frozen variety and achieve the same results.

Cocktail de Camarones
[makes 3-5 servings]

  • 2 lbs of Cooked Maine Shrimp, pandalus borealis
  • 3 ribs of Celery {1/4 inch dice}
  • 1 medium size Red Onion {1/4 inch dice}
  • 3/4 cup Ketchup {I am hooked on Whole Foods Organic}
  • Juice of 1 fresh lime
  • 1 Jalapeno {1/4 inch dice}
  • 1/4 cup Cilantro {finely chopped, use the stems too!}
  • Salt {your taste}
  • Hot Sauce {optional}
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, serve a nice container over crisp lettuce and garnish with lime wedges and sprigs of cilantro. Serve with an ice cold Pilsner style beer, and enjoy the summer weather.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sea Stories

The Blue Ocean Institute has an interesting site devoted to better writers than I. They call this collection Sea Stories. It is an interesting mix of poetry and short stories from contributors of all sorts. The next issue could even contain writings by you; should you want to contribute they have a submission tool.

Monday, June 23, 2008


One of the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) great success story has been the certification of the Alaskan Pollack fishery. Some 100 plus boats (factory type ships) harvest huge amounts of pollack under the watchful eyes of The MSC and the Alaska division of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency). One problem is the huge amount of salmon bycatch that is inadvertently caught with the pollack. Strict guidelines currently have these boats discarding tons of fish. Surely there has to be some better way to handle all this bycatch. Below is today's AP article. Please cast your vote in the sidebar about bycatch.

Associated Press/AP Online
June 23, 2008 - ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Florence Johnson can rattle off myriad ways to prepare salmon. Drawing on a lifetime of fishing the Yukon River, she recommends canning, salting, or drying the fillets in her smokehouse near the heart of downtown Eagle.

"I'd be very lost without it," Johnson said. "I can eat salmon for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks."

That the fish reach Eagle at all is a minor miracle. The dirt-road town is 1,400 river miles from the Yukon's mouth and for a variety of reasons, many salmon never make it back to the waters of their birth.

Increasingly, they have been scooped up by the massive Bering Sea pollock fleet, a global source of frozen fish sticks, fillets and imitation crab, and the largest fishery by volume in the U.S.

The trend is deeply troubling for people living along the great rivers of western Alaska, including the Yukon. Salmon are a staple food and in some cases a primary source of cash for dozens of villages from the mouth of the 2,000-mile river to its headwaters in Canada. Wild Alaska kings also make up a small, but highly valuable segment of the worldwide fish market.

In recent years, the fleet of about 100 pollock trawlers have intercepted record numbers of salmon bound for rivers in Canada, the Pacific Northwest, Asia and Alaska. Federal laws prevent them from fishing for anything but pollock, so fishermen must throw the mostly dead and dying salmon back into the sea.

King salmon bycatch - fishing jargon for the unintentional capture of a species - in the Bering Sea pollock fishery rose last year to a record 122,000, up from a previous 5-year average of 57,333. The bycatch count for other salmon species hit a record 706,000 in 2005, according to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The salmon problem has gotten so bad that the management council, a federal body that regulates the region's fisheries, expressed tentative support this month for an unprecedented proposal to temporarily close the Bering Sea pollock fishery should king salmon bycatch exceed a certain number.

"We are working to balance the ability of the pollock fleet to optimize their catch while minimizing salmon bycatch," said Diana Stram, a fishery management plan coordinator for the council.

Given the variety of market factors, there are no estimates on how fish prices could change if the restrictions go into place. There are also still several options for where to put the limit, which hasn't been decided upon.

Salmon fishermen in Eagle and elsewhere generally support the proposal, lamenting the loss of thousands of salmon each year.

"Not being so close to the sea, we're not right there watching it, but we all feel the effects," said Barry Westphal, a fisherman, Christian minister and the environmental coordinator for the Native Village of Eagle. "It seems like a terrible waste of a precious resource."

The corporations that dominate Alaska's billion-dollar pollock industry generally believe a limit on salmon bycatch would put a damper on pollock numbers and increase the cost of fuel by forcing boats to relocate more frequently, according to Stephanie Madsen, a former council chair who is now executive director of a pollock trade group, the At-Sea Processors Association.

If adopted, the limit on salmon bycatch would likely take effect in 2011 and, in some scenarios, could cost the pollock fleet more than $500 million annually, according to federal estimates.

The industry has spent over half a million dollars in the last five years to develop nets that allow salmon to escape while keeping pollock in, said John Gruver, interco-op manager at United Catcher Boats, based in Seattle. He said the latest version, which he is still refining, allows one in five salmon to swim free. Earlier models let more salmon escape, but broke easily.

"We hope people understand that we're not just out there hammering away and that we are aware of the bycatch situation," Madsen said. "We've been struggling with it for years."

But a tiny segment of the pollock fleet is pushing for the cap on bycatch. Members of a federal program set up to aid impoverished western Alaska villages rely almost exclusively on pollock for income. Some believe their mission to protect the salmon-dependent village economies comes first.

"We recognize that pollock is where we get our royalty money from," said Ragnar Alstrom, executive director of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association. "But both the subsistence and commercial salmon fisheries inriver are more important to us than the pollock."

Pollock boats are just one of many obstacles that can lead to a salmon's demise. Spawning returns hinge on several factors, including ocean temperatures, availability of food, predator numbers and disease.

For example, scientists blame the devastation of the Yukon salmon fishery in 2000 not on pollock boats, but on anomalous algal blooms in the Bering Sea. A five-year study by University of Washington professor emeritus Richard Kocan has shown a possible link between warming temperatures in the Yukon River and the emergence of a new disease in a variety of salmon species.

"There are many reasons the salmon don't come back to spawn," said Frank Quinn, area director with the government agency Fisheries and Oceans Canada. "But we need to do something. Bycatch is one thing we can have an impact on."

Canada had to close the Yukon River to nearly all king salmon fishing last year because so few fish came across the border from Alaska, said Quinn, who is based in Whitehorse, Yukon. Based on early estimates, the fisheries department may impose the same restrictions this season.

Elsewhere, scientists and government officials are expecting this year's West Coast salmon season to be one of the worst in history, owing to the collapse of one of the region's largest wild salmon runs. Possible causes range from ocean conditions and habitat destruction to dam operations and agricultural pollution.

West Coast lawmakers are protesting a Bush administration plan to chop a $170 million disaster relief plan for the Pacific salmon fishing industry to $100 million. The money is part of the recently passed federal farm bill.

Johnson, 69, has a field-tested backup plan for the years when the salmon don't come.

"I'll go out and get caribou or moose instead when the runs are bad," she said. "But you know when I'm out hunting, that's my breakfast - salmon strips and Ritz crackers. So, I don't know what I'd do without my salmon."


On the Net:

North Pacific Fisheries Management Council:

At-Sea Processors Association:

United Catcher Boats:

Community Development Quota:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fishmonger's Recommended Reading

I guess you would expect me to suggest you read the new book Bottomfeeder, but I won't burden you this beautiful summer weekend with something so serious. Instead pick up one of these, they are only remotely seafood related.

  • A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffet - Mix up a few margaritas and enjoy this lighthearted tale about a young man searching for bonefish and a second chance.
  • Atomic Lobster by Time Dorsey - The title has little to do with the book, but if you like classic pulp fiction with a slightly sick Floridian sense of humor this Tampa native will have you laughing out loud at the beach this weekend.
  • Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish by G. Bruce Knecht - Ok so one of my selections is about commercial fishing. I think that this is a great informational non-fiction work about "Chilean Sea Bass". I am only recommending this because it is written very well and reads like a mystery novel, besides some excerpts about the Antarctic could have a cooling effect as you soak up some rays.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Grouper Switch Follow Up

Red Grouper(Epinephelus morio)

This morning I received an interesting offer sheet from one of my suppliers. The offer was to purchase a new item they will be carrying. The item a fish called emperer (lethrinus lentjan), sold as a frozen CO2 treated fillet. This is one of the many fish that made it's way to the tables of restaurants under the guise of grouper. I applaud the efforts to legitimize grouper sales.

Last October following reports in the Saint Petersburg Times and a full blown investigation by the Florida Department Of Agriculture I wrote:

If you live in Florida, or have vacationed there you would know that the Grouper Sandwich is the default State meal. From Gainesville to Key West you would have a hard time not finding the ubiquitous selection on the menu of most restaurants. Fried, blackened or grilled millions have been served to locals and unsuspecting tourists alike. The big dirty secret is finally out in the open. The chances that the sandwich you or anyone else ate was local grouper -- slim to none. It turns out that most of these establishments were buying frozen "grouper", and that some was an imported species of grouper. At least that is what they thought they were getting. It was more likely that the frozen fish was either a box of mixed species, with some Asian grouper included, or it could have easily been basa, panga, or some other mild white flesh fish, even..gulp tilapia. So who is to blame? The Restaurant for trying to sell cheap Asian grouper? The supplier for not verifying species? The consumer for being cheap? And those are just questions to ask if you want to assume no malevolence. The truth might be even worse, with allegations of fraud and conspiracy. The problem is that real gulf grouper is scarce and expensive. Some of the good guy restaurants are trying to serve Real Florida Grouper, but the menu cost needs to be substantially higher than their competition. For more information see USA Today.

So just 8 months later we finally see the results of these efforts. I applaud Crocker and Winsor for the honesty shown in writing. "Will my customers like it? Chance(sp) are they already do but don't know it. For years emperor an grouper would be mixed in the same box. However in recent years some Southern states in order to support the local fishery-began DNA testing......the result emperor can not be sold as grouper as it was in the past.

I fully support the proper labeling of seafood for a number of reasons.
  1. As a supplier it is frustrating to see customers buying impostor fish at ridiculously low prices from your competition.
  2. As a consumer and buyer I do not like being deceived.
  3. Mislabeling contributes to diminished accuracy in evaluating seafood harvests. And hurts efforts to make fisheries sustainable.
So now we have this new attractively priced emperer fillet available, the same fillet that was masquerading as grouper at a higher price. I for on will not be buying this fish until I know more. But if you find yourself at a restaurant you might still want to ask where the grouper is from. You can look at the Fresh from Florida website for some really great grouper substitution information.

Emperer (lethrinus lentjan)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rising Fuel Cost Saves the Ocean, Maybe Not

In the past month the rising costs of fuel, diesel in particular have caused an uproar from coast to coast and from sea to sea. Strikes in France, Spain, and Portugal. Work stoppages in Japan. Limited days at sea for struggling American boats, and the list goes on. So how is this good? It is not. But maybe it could be good for those threatened species you say. You know less fisherman out there catching fish from day to day, that has to take some pressure off of the reserves right? This line of thinking only highlights the problem with the perception of fishing today. Unlike what most consumers might think about the fishing industry; small boats and small crews hand lining fish, most fish is taken by larger vessels with high tech gear, and high yield fishing techniques. High fuel prices really only affect the small guys. So when fuel costs rise some of these old school artisanal fishermen are the ones most hurt. So despite what may seem like a panacea for ocean conservation, could actually force some shift to higher yield and more destructive type of fishing. So I put this challenge to inventors, free thinkers, geniuses, conservationists, and venture capitalists: come up with a way to increase the efficiency of small fishing vessels while promoting seafood sustainability.
This is an average sized small vessel
This is a larger factory ship

Calif. Delivers Final Truckload of Juvenile Salmon to San Francisco Bay

The Sacramento Bee
June 18, 2008 - State officials on Tuesday trucked their final load of juvenile salmon from hatcheries to San Francisco Bay, marking the end of an unprecedented effort to help a dwindling species.

In total, the Department of Fish and Game hauled 20.2 million fall-run chinook salmon smolts from three hatcheries on the American, Feather and Mokelumne rivers. The fish were deposited into net pens on shore, then towed by barge out into San Pablo Bay for release.

The state has trucked salmon for years, but never on this scale, said spokesman Harry Morse, nor has anyone else.

"I called both Washington and Oregon and asked them if anybody had transported a number this massive, and both those agencies said no," Morse said.

Fish and Game decided to truck nearly all its hatchery chinook this year to ensure more fish survive to spawn again.

Trucking saves the fish from exposure to predators and poor water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But a debate continues on whether this disrupts the fishes' ability to find their way back to their home rivers.

The Central Valley fall chinook this year is predicted to reach its lowest level in more than three decades, and salmon fishing has been closed as a result.


To see more of The Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Greenpeace List

Today Greenpeace released a report grading major U.S. supermarkets on sustainability. Most did not do well. The highest rated of the group Whole Foods received only four out of a possible 10.

I was reminded about the presence of this report by an e-mail from Greenpeace despite the fact that I had not been a strong supporter of the group in the past.

Hi Matthew!

Over at Greenpeace I've been looking over tons of blogs on ocean conservation and seafood, ect., and yours has caught my eye. I thought you might be interested in our new report?

From overfishing to bottom trawling to overcrowded fish farms, the seafood industry threatens our marine ecosystems to the point of collapse. Sustainable fishing is a key to maintaining healthy oceans which in turn help stabilize the planetary environment and the climate at large. Greenpeace has just released a unique report detailing the seafood purchasing practices of major American supermarkets, markets who make billions of dollars a year off seafood sales. Ranking the practices of the top 20 markets, the report represents a new approach to tackling the fisheries crisis, holding supermarkets accountable for their role in supporting unsustainable fisheries and aquaculture operations. Pressuring the markets we buy from will push the entire seafood industry into adopting a long-term plan for sustainable fishing.

I hope you find this interesting... thanks for all that you do and keep up the good work!

Greenpeace USA

Thank you Camilla,

I was actually in the process of putting the finishing touches on a post that features a scheme to seed the ocean with iron. A proposal by a past Greenpeace leader, and not supported by the current administration.

We all need to wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to seafood sustainability, and I need to brew another pot while I read the seventy five page report. If you would care to read it you can do so on the Greenpeace site.

I am not sure that the report addresses the possibility that some of these retailers are buying these "red list" species from sustainable sources. Greenpeace flat out says they will not support or endorse any of the non government agencies that have guidelines. While they do not always agree many have come together recently to address these issues, maybe Greenpeace should try to get a seat at that table.

The Great Salmon Debate

This morning I received a request from a reader to write about some talking points that the Atlantic salmon farmers have produced.

Having been on the front lines with consumers in a retail seafood environment I have tried to educate myself on the pros and cons of Salmon farming. New York has perhaps some of the best educated seafood consumers due to the presence of those diligent writers, and op-ed columnists at the New York Times. Don't get me wrong, I think that the Times is a great paper. What happens is the same people that come in and asked me for four six ounce center cut Chilean Sea Bass portions (hey people, fish have tails!) after reading a recipe in the Times Wednesday's Dining Out Section are confused about PCB scares and the like involving farmed salmon.

One problem with the farmed salmon debate is the fact that land based proteins have many of the same issues with contamination. The difference here I think is that The beef, poultry, and swine industries have much better lobby groups. Do you think that the runoff and waste generated by farmed cattle is less detrimental than aquaculture? Algae blooms originating downstream from these operations are increasingly harming the ocean environment.

I need to be clear here. Salmon farming could be better. New feeds that are based on proteins
other than wild fish are one part of the solution. Establishing a multiculture system around current salmon farms are another. I spoke with Tim O'Shea, founder of Cleanfish a few months ago and he told me how Loch Duart was introducing sea urchins to the sea bed to feed upon wastes generated above. They might even market the urchins in the future. I think this is a great idea, and certainly less destructive than some current wild catch methods that destroy the bottom habitat in the process of fishing.

Unless we are to all become vegetarians, the perils of meat and seafood consumption will continue continue to challenge consumers and suppliers. Like so many issues today extremists on both sides of the debate make the moderates voice hard to hear. Look, aquaculture is here to stay. As a consumer and a member of the seafood industry I feel it is important to support suppliers in a way that improves sustainability.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Iron Seeding the Oceans

Have you heard this one? In an effort to offset carbon

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Bottomfeeder" Preview

I have been reading an interesting book by Taras Grescoe who is the author of “Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.” For those of you who have read "The Omnivores Dilemma" by Micheal Pollan, and liked it, than this is a book I think you will enjoy. Grescoe's style is very readable and full of useful information. Whether you are an avid proponent of sustainable seafood, or a fan of the McDonalds Fillet O' Fish you will benefit from this good read. I was going to actually wait until I finished the entire book before I blogged about it here, but Grescoe wrote an op-ed piece in Monday's New York Times. The piece suggested that maybe we should just take a pass on salmon altogether, wild or farmed. Personally I will continue to limit my farmed salmon to fish from farms like Loch Duart, and my wild salmon to Alaskan fisheries. Like Grescoe I will not be having any Copper River fish this year as the cost is prohibitive, even at wholesale prices. I will be looking forward to the more plentiful coho runs, and this year I might even try to come up with a flavorful recipe for chum salmon. I wonder if I call it silverbright, will it taste better?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Menhaden Update

One of my ongoing rants involves the menhaden fishery. This is by many accounts the largest fishery in the United States. It is in my opinion one of the most important in terms of environmental impact. Here is the wholesale removal of the most important food source for almost every kind of other fish up and down the east coast. In some online research I found that some of the most well opinionated and active people fighting to protect this fish are recreational stripe bass fishermen. Please visit the following sites to learn more, and to sign the petition.

Attention Dave Barry - Lobster Jail?

June 4, 2008 - Animal-rights activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has submitted a bid to lease a vacant, rural Maine jail to establish the world's first Lobster Empathy Center.

"A prison is the perfect setting to demonstrate how lobsters suffer when they are caught in traps or confined to cramped, filthy supermarket tanks," PETA wrote in a June 2 letter to Somerset County commissioners. The county is constructing a new prison and has put the century-old facility in Skowhegan up for sale. read more

PETA, what is next a condo rented out for the sole use of cockroaches?

East Coast States Debate New Rules


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Teaser Post

Attention New York Chefs:

  • Be the first to menu giant domestic crayfish 7-10 inches each. Contact the fishmonger to get in on the action. First responders will be eligible to receive sample next week.
(this is a small one, stock photo)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

World Ocean Day

The Earth day for the seas is June 8th. Check out The Ocean Project for more information and be sure to sign the petition.

Shellfish Handling

It is the time of year now when increased outdoor temperatures, and the natural inclination to spawn are upon us. To help prevent unwanted mortality follow these helpful guidelines.

  1. Keep shellfish refrigerated and buried in ice in a container that allows drainage.
  2. Proper refrigeration is important, but even more so during this time. Even moderate temperature abuse, or rough handling could cause your shellfish to spawn.
  3. Gaping shellfish can be run under cold water to get them to close, if they still do not close they are dead or dying and should be discarded.
  4. To prevent gaping , keep shellfish in a tightly closed mesh bag.
  5. Spawned product should be rinsed in fresh cold water and put into a clean container.
Monitor these critical areas.

  • Loading docks, limit time and temperature abuse.
  • Ship product in refrigerated trucks only.
  • Hot kitchens can kill shellfish in no time, keep product iced and refrigerated at all times.

Take extra care in all these areas and your shellfish will take care of you. Thank you to my friends at American Mussel for all the information, and inspiration.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cooking Fish is Easy

Why are you so afraid of seafood; it really could not be more simple. Just follow the CANADIAN RULE.

How to cook fish:
  • Here is a really simple and easy rule to follow and your fish will be cooked to perfection every time.
  • This will work for any method of cooking.
  • Use this rule for all species of fin fish.
  • The only requirement is that the heat source is as very hot. Now the secret; for each inch of thickness cook the fish 1o minutes.

  • That's it, now go cook some fish.