Sustainable Seafood 101
By Chef Bryan Szeliga, February 2012
My dad loves shrimp, along with the rest of America! Shrimp is the #1 seafood consumed by Americans. Globally, shrimp have the highest economic value of all seafood, accounting for nearly 20% of the total value of all seafood combined. The average American consumes more then four pounds of shrimp per year.
On a recent visit with my family, the first words from my dad as I walked in the door were, "That shrimp is from Canada!" I have been telling my dad that he has to ask where the shrimp is from before he buys it. My response, "Is it sustainable?" My dad couldn't look me in the eye as he replied, "I don't know.”
Unfortunately just asking where our seafood comes from is not enough. It is important to know if the seafood is sustainable!
By Chef Bryan Szeliga, December 2011
Buying local has become a popular topic for produce and to some degree beef, pork, and poultry. This is a philosophy that is also important when it comes to buying seafood.
When you are buying seafood you are not just buying a piece of fish, you are providing a fisherman with a livelihood. The overall economic health of many coastal communities relies on the success of fishermen!
In 2010, 86% of the seafood Americans consumed was imported! China, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam are a few of the top seafood suppliers of the 5.5 billion pounds imported into the United States.
By Chef Bryan Szeliga, October 2011
I believe one of the largest misconceptions in sustainable seafood revolves around fish farming (aquaculture). In many cases, farm raised seafood is a large part of the equation for sustainable seafood. Ideally, there should be plenty of wild fish in the sea to thrive, allowing humans to consume for sustenance.
Over 14,000 years ago humans lived in hunter-gatherer communities. Their nourishment came from seasonal migratory patterns. At that time humans followed the food sources.
Around 8000 B.C. the Fertile Crescent gave birth to agriculture. Agriculture changed what and how humans ate and led the way to the domestication of rice, squash, and corn followed by goats, pigs, and cows, which in turn gave birth to animal husbandry (the practice of breeding and raising livestock).
During the rise of agriculture over the past 10,000 years, humans continued to hunt (fish) for wild stocks of seafood.
By Chef Bryan Szeliga, September 2011
Imagine the server at your favorite restaurant describing the nightly special, 'tonight we have a previously frozen fillet of pan seared striped bass, with grilled ramps, roasted fingerling potatoes, caramelized Brussels sprouts, topped with warm saffron and d'Espelette emulsion.' Any takers? Replace previously frozen with 'fresh' and the special will be the restaurant’s top seller!
Contrary to popular belief, frozen seafood can be superior to its fresh counterpart.
When we look holistically at sustainable seafood, frozen seafood is often times more sustainable and superior to fresh. Seafood is often harvested far from the consumer and must travel a great distance to reach the marketplace. Fresh fish is shipped by air, which is a high carbon footprint shipping method. Frozen seafood can be shipped efficiently by boat.
By Chef Bryan Szeliga, April 2011
Eating seafood brings to mind many special memories, a few of my fondest having been provided by Chefs Barbara Lynch, Eric Ripert, Vitaly Paley, and Daniel Humm and one very special meal at La Mandrágora in Tarifa, Spain. The flavors of each of these meals still dance on my tongue when I think of tasting the lobster roll, the hiramasa, the spot prawn, the Arctic char and the squid.
At the dinner table I love the sexy look of a superbly seared halibut with the contrasting colors of golden brown and ivory white flesh. Also pleasing to the eye is the grilled Bristol Bay sockeye salmon with perfect black hash marks on the ruby pink fillet.
When I landed my first cooking job at a seafood restaurant in Durango, Colorado in 1994, a delivery of “fresh” fish would arrive at the back door of the kitchen every day of the week except Sunday.
By Chef Bryan Szeliga, January 2011
As a chef, I look beyond conventional benchmarks to provide the most responsible seafood possible to my customers. Commercial fishermen supply the products while I juggle to meet the demands of my customers. Sport fly-fishing is my hobby and my core values are in line with many large seafood conservation organizations. These factors create a unique lens through which I view seafood.
Worldwide annual seafood consumption per person has increased from about 22 pounds in 1960 to over 36 pounds in 2005.(1) In the same timeframe, our human population has doubled.
The corresponding result is that currently over 80% of our seafood stocks are over-exploited. Science based studies show that the UK trawler fleet has to work seventeen times harder to catch the same amount of fish today as it did in 1889.(2) There are countless stories like these worldwide.
By Chef Bryan Szeliga, December 2010
I am a chef, fly fisherman, and salmon conservationist. As a child from Colorado I have fond memories of vacations in Atlantic City, New Jersey. My father grew up in Philadelphia with a family tradition of fishing the bay and ocean for flounder, sea bass, weakfish, sand shark, blue fish, and stripers. A day on the water was sure to produce this quote from my father and Uncle Jack, “Fishing is just not what it used to be. Remember how many fish we used to catch as kids?”
However, as a child I do remember that the result of an Atlantic City fishing trip was a cooler filled with fish! At that time we would harvest every legal size fish we could catch.
A recent fishing trip yielded two legal flounder and a big dose of reality. The reality is that we are only a generation away from not knowing what it is like to catch as many fish as we once did.