One of my classmates, Cathy Preston, is doing her master’s project on sustainable seafood. She wants to know what kind of seafood you consume and how you chose it. Take her 30-second survey here, and you’ll have both the satisfaction of helping a student to Save The World and a chance to win $25. All info will be kept confidential.
Yesterday, a twenty-pound lobster named George was paroled from his buttery fate in a New York restaurant and returned to the ocean. Since the MSNBC article wasn’t satisfying (much like lobster without drawn butter), I have transcribed the conversation I had with myself while chewing it over (much like the tough tail meat of aged lobsters).
Was George really 140 years old?
Maybe, but according to the Lobster Institute, there’s no way to tell for sure. Since lobster shells don’t have yearly rings (like trees or mussel shells), age is estimated based on weight. And since lobster growth rate varies with changes in the lobster’s environment, like water temperature or food quality, weight is a pretty inaccurate way to guess. George is old, but 140 years? Who knows?
Would George have been tasty?
I don’t care, I want a giant lobster! What good is an antiquated crustacean, anyway?
Giant old lobsters like George keep the entire population going. Like in Hollywood, big lobsters produce exponentially more sperm or eggs than little lobsters. For example, 5-lb female produces 14 times more eggs than a 1-lb female. And the large aged lobster ladies make better quality eggs, too, with more delicious fat to sustain the babies.
That’s why the US coastal lobster fishery has an upper size limit – to let those big lobsters keep on keepin’ on making more 1-1/2 lb. numminess. George was caught off Canada, where there’s no upper size limit. (There’s also no upper limit in the offshore US fishery).
Now I’m hungry. Where can I buy the best most sustainable happy lobster?
Massachusetts. Maine might be known for its lobster ranching, but the ropes on their lobster traps kill and entangle critically endangered right whales (and there’s only 350 of them left) each year. The Massachusetts fishery uses ropes that sink to the bottom and stay out of the whales’ way. Check out the New England Aquarium’s Right Whale blog for more.
Thanks to adamooo for the George article and Jives for the right whale blog!
Merry Christmas to those who are Christmas-ing! And for the rest of us…
The Marine Stewardship Council recently certified a Chilean sea bass fishery as sustainable. Can certain slow-growing deep sea fish can be harvested sustainably?
As part of the new Smithsonian webisode series “The Scientist is In”, Dr. Baldwin answered three questions on video, and mine was one of them! In short, she believes that the MSC certification of Chilean sea bass is legit, and that you can eat it without guilt.
Though I’m happy she responded to the question, I wish that she had provided more details. Is even the MSC-certified fishery sustainable in the long term? Do consumers have to worry about fish from non-sustainable fisheries being sold fradulantly under the MSC label? Does demand for the MSC-certified fish drive overfishing of unprotected fish?
To get Dr. Baldwin’s full answer, watch the video (with bonus sassy question from Mark Powell).
Foodies are uniting for sustainable seafood! On Sunday, the New York Times ran a column by Mark Bittman (of How to Cook Everything fame), calling for foodie-based fishing reform.
I suppose you might call me a wild-fish snob. I don’t want to go into a fish market on Cape Cod and find farm-raised salmon from Chile and mussels from Prince Edward Island instead of cod, monkfish or haddock. I don’t want to go to a restaurant in Miami and see farm-raised catfish from Vietnam on the menu but no grouper.
The only option then is to ask questions, whether at the fish counter or at the restaurant: what kind of fish is it, where does it come from, how was it farmed/caught?
Admittedly, this is not the easiest thing to do — especially in France, where vendors and waiters are known to get defensive, and where well-intentioned curiosity is occasionally met with a take-it-or-leave-it-mademoiselle attitude. The trick is to adopt just the right tone so as not to sound high-and-mighty, yet make it clear how important it is to you.
For the SoCal foodie crowd, San Diego has a brand-new sustainable seafood restaurant, Sea Rocket Bistro. Eric and I went there on Saturday night in order to do our part to save the oceans through desire – tasty, tasty desire. (San Diegans can check out Sea Rocket for free next Wednesday at the Slow Food Mixer.)
My short radio play Miriam and the Bawdy Bivalves is a finalist in the Marx Foods Oyster Contest! But upon closer examination of the oysters offered, I cannot endorse farming non-native oysters in Puget Sound, however delicious they might be. So here’s what I’m going to do.
If I win, I’m going to hold a massive oyster dinner for me, Eric, and 6 lucky guests. The oysters will be supplemented with local mussels, Eric’s homemade pasta & sauce, the garlickiest garlic bread ever to garlic, and my world-famous cranberry apple crisp. We’ll ask each guest to donate $10 (and will donate $10 ourselves) and will send the donations to the Nature Conservancy’s Olympia Oyster restoration project. (Olympia oysters are the Pacific Northwest’s only native oyster, but were nearly wiped out from overharvesting and habitat destruction.)
But who should be those lucky guests? Vote in the poll below. And if you think this is a good idea, vote for my radio play here!
The pinnacle of the New York food experience (in my ever-so-humble opinion) is a warm, fresh bagel schmeared thickly with whitefish salad. So delicious, and as guilt-free as Jewish food ever gets, since these days whitefish is Alaskan pollock, the sustainability posterfish. (Whitefish used to mean cod, haddock, or hake, but those fisheries are gone.)
So when Mark Powell and Jennifer Jacquet reported that Alaskan pollock stocks were down by half, I was extremely upset – until I realized that there’s no decent whitefish salad in San Diego anyway. But then I remembered that I will be in New York for Thanksgiving, got upset again at the loss of my precious whitefish salad, and then realized that I’m not ready to give up on the sustainability of the pollock fishery yet.
First, I want to point out that fish do go through huge natural populations swings caused by oceanographic conditions. The famous Cannery Row sardine crash may have been caused as much by the atmosphere as by overfishing. Though I certainly don’t dispute the worldwide problem with overfishing, the role that climatic conditions may be playing in the pollock decline shouldn’t be discounted.
But the cause of the decline actually doesn’t matter very much. This is an opportunity for managers to show that they care about sustainability and the latest buzzword, adaptive management. If fish populations are decreasing, management should allow significantly fewer fish to be taken (total allowable catch, or TAC), and they should move to protect spawning aggregations. (In the pollock fishery, it is legal to target winter spawning aggregations). In happy sustainable-land, this should all happen without lawsuits and rioting, because everyone wants to protect the fish stocks, right?
This will probably be financially challenging. But if fishermen and managers are serious about investing in a sustainable fishery, they’ve got to manage the fish through the bad years as well as the good, whether the decline is natural or man-made. Management wasn’t stringent enough in New England, and as a result there are no cod. I hope that Alaska is different. Because, dammit, I demand delicious toppings for my bagels, and tackling lox sustainability is WAY harder!
Another contest! This time, it’s for molluscan delights. Marx Foods (in Seattle, WA) is giving away four dozen free oysters to the person who best describes what they would do with them. I know nothing about Marx Foods’ sustainability practices, but 95% of oysters are farmed, and oysters are considered a “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. The contest is open until October 19th and you can vote for the winners from Oct 21-24th. Here’s my entry:
Miriam and the Bawdy Bivalves: A Short Radio Play
Tiny oyster voices: “Ma’am, we’re here to see about the plankton bloom.”
Miriam: “But you’re not the regular plankton cleaner! You’re much…juicier.”
Tiny oyster voices: “Yes, ma’am. But we’re not wearing any pants.”
Miriam: “Here at the Castle Wolffenstein, we have but one punishment for lewd lamellibranchs! Let me help you slip out of that hard, heavy shell into something a little more comfortable.”
(shadow of shucking knife on the wall)
EEE-EEE-EEE-EEE (Theme from “Psycho”)
Tiny oyster voices: AIEEEEEEE-ack!
Obi-Wan: I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if four dozen voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
(slurping sounds, followed by sizzling sounds, followed by dipping-in-garlic-butter-and-eating sounds)
(the rest is silence. happy, contented silence.)
Thanks to Emily from Marx Foods for letting me know about the contest!