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Happy 2016 from Real Good Fish! In 2015 the sustainable seafood world was still a proverbial David against the global Goliath of international commercial fishing and aquaculture. But there has been progress. Some positive markers include Sustainable Seafood Week, which started three years ago in New York City, and this year spread to Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington DC with sold out galas and problem-solving brain storming sessions. Fish 2.0 brought together entrepreneurs in the seafood world around the world with Social Impact Investors. Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust joined Morro Bay and Cape Cod in creating community held fishing quota and groups like the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust are working to bring young men and women into the industry. And while our fishermen and women are facing challenges with everything from El Nino to drought, there have been a lot of silver linings.
Here are some of the changes and trends in 2015 in the seafood world that caught our attention and we think will continue to grow into 2016.
1. Human Rights a New Metric in Sustainable Seafood
Many of us have heard Bristol Bay deckhands grumble that during the peak of sockeye season, it sure feels like slavery. But they can hop ship at the fuel dock and fly home. The real human tragedy being played out on the high seas and in processing plants got big media coverage in 2015. Real Good Fish member, Shannon Service, broke the story about slavery on Thai fishing boats for NPR in 2012 and is currently working on a documentary about the issue. You can watch the haunting teaser here. This year, Ian Urbina at The New York Times, created an excellent series about rogue ships and men enslaved at sea, and the Associated Press has been chronicling slavery in shrimp processors.
Thanks to this and other excellent reporting, the public learning about the very high price of cheap, imported seafood.
2. Local is the New Organic
Wild seafood doesn’t have an “organic” label, and so it means virtually nothing when it comes from wild seafood, and can be “greenwashing” when it relates to aquaculture. But studies are finding that people want local food-even more than organic. In a survey by Cowen and Company, 43% of the 1,000 surveyed participants would purchase food with a “locally sourced” label beating the 19% who would purchase food with an “organic” label. Mark Hansen, Senior Scientist with Consumer Unions, the policy and advocacy center for Consumer Reports has been very opposed to GE salmon that was approved by the FDA this year, particularly that it would go unlabled. He told us that their survey results showed that 95% of consumers want animal protein labeled. And sometimes, just knowing your fisherman reassures a responsible supply chain. Fishermen like Christopher Wang of Gypsy Seafood Company who fishes Bristol Bay and Sitka Salmon Shares help bridge places of high salmon/low people density.
3. Seaweed, Especially Bacon Flavored, is the New Super Food (Once Again)
This past year The New Yorker ran a profile on Bren Smith and his integrated aquaculture operation on Thimble Island. In the article, “Is Seaweed the Next Super Food” it states, “Seaweed, which requires neither fresh water nor fertilizer, is one of the world’s most sustainable and nutritious crops.” Seafood Watch added seaweed to their “Best Choice” list, acknowledging that it’s indeed seafood. From the New York Times, to Grub Street a new cultivated red algae or dulse is making a media splash, as it “grows quickly, is packed with protein, has twice the nutritional value of kale and tastes like bacon.” It turns out that this dulse is being cultivated at Moss Landing Marine Lab at Sustainable Seaculture Technologies, which happens to beright across the street from Real Good Fish. We’ve been selling their “Monterey Reds” on our webstore. We just hooked up Real Good Fish member, Jason Hansen, at Sante Adairius Rustic Ales with and he’s using this along with and oyster shells for a saison beer they will be releasing in 2016. We are excited to sample this one.
4. Frozen is the New Fresh
When handled well and flash frozen in prime condition, frozen seafood is an excellent product. Now you can get local, sustainable frozen seafood, spiced and in sauces, ready to cook from some great sustainable sources. Based in Santa Barbara, CA. Salty Girl Seafood offers products like Black cod with Sweet and Smoky Teriyaki and Coho Salmon with Lemon Pepper & Garlic. LovetheWild Fish Co. in Boulder, CO. offers sustainable seafood like rockfish with tapenade and Mahi-Mahi with coconut curry.
5. Diversity & Creativity Are Trumping Classic
In San Francisco alone last year new seafood restaurants launched got us excited. While we love classics like a good Crab Louie and Cioppino, it’s great to see some new, international influences on our local seafood. Cala Restaurant, owned by Mexico City native Chef Gabriela Cámara is using local seafood for dishes like Tamal de Cazuela with sea urchin and habanero-leek relish along with squid and ling cod frito mixto. Former crabber John Fink, owner of the Whole Beast, started up a seafood bar at the new Market Street Hall. Local albacore poke salad and smoked black cod fish are part of his fare. The Real Good Fish crew has taken “work” retreats to Mendocino to dive on abalone and sea urchins. Our new favorites are abalone po’boys and Uni, Bacon and Arugula Carbonara. Our recipe for this here.
6. Crispy Fish Skins
Permit us a humble brag, as our chef/fisherman Kevin Butler’s recipe for Crispy Salmon with Thyme Butter & Roasted Fennel Salad was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle this year adjacent to an article on seasonal seafood. Crispy skins are some of the tastiest and healthiest parts of the fish, since the omega-3 oils are concentrated there. Restaurants, like Fish in Sausalito, have featured fish skin chicharrones dusted in fennel pollen on their menu and black cod or sablefish skins, cooked crisply, will make you swoon a little from all the healthy oils. Fried, crispy fish skin is also great as savory croutons on salads or soups.
7. Kids like Fish if It’s Good
We often hear that kids don’t like to eat fish, but if all they’ve had is rubbery room temperature fish sticks, or cafeteria tilapia-carp type thing, then no, they won’t eat it. But when the fish is good, they love it. Community Supported Fisheries and food advocacy groups are finding a market for species that are otherwise under-utilized and so fit schools low budget. Gloucester Public School District is partnering with a local CSF, Cape Ann Fresh Catch to bring kids Coconut Crusted Acadian Redfish and “Fish-in-Chips”. Real Good Fish in Moss Landing is partnering with Monterey Peninsula Unified School District to for fish tacos, taco bowls and baked, chili-lime encrusted fish and chips. Chef Charlie Phan of the Slanted Door created a Clay Pot Fish for the Bay2Tray program. This is part of a California Thursdays initiative by the Center for Eco-Literacy.
In Alaska, researchers at the University of Fairbanks are studying the impact of school children eating locally caught fish in their diets as part of the “Fish to School” program. Researchers found that the program implemented on the Yukon Delta “increased traditional food intake, use of locally caught salmon, diet quality, and awareness and understanding of food choice linkages to the community.” Encouraged by the initial success, they hope to grow it statewide.
8. Black Cod
Smoked, miso brined, grilled whole, it’s finally getting its dues. Most of the West Coast’s black cod or sablefish is still shipped to Japan where they appreciate this oily, delicious fish. Though there are rumblings here that chefs and consumers are catching on to what a delicacy this fish can be. Organizers of the Sustain our Seas Festival in Half Moon Bay expressed their concern to us that almost all the chefs want to use black cod. Real Good Fish is planning on making smoked black cod “unagi” rolls, to show that this is a delicious, sustainable alternative to eel. We think this black cod love is great. Take farmed salmon off the winter menus, and instead serve this fish, also called “butterfish” as it’s rich with omega-3’s oils. All that oil makes it great for smoking. Real Good Fish Carmel Canyon Smoked Black Cod is a finalist for a Good Food Award this year-winners will be announced on January 15th.
9. Watershed Pairings: Ecosystem Based Eating
Rivers run into the sea, so healthy, unpolluted rivers means healthier estuaries and bays. We continue to grow our webstore and partner with local CSA’s like Eating With the Seasons and farms like High Ground Organics; we are pairing smoked fish charcuterie with jams and pickles from Happy Girl Kitchen, polenta and grains from Coke Farm, and for events, we look to partner with local winemakers like Bonny Doon Vineyard that practice Biodynamic farming. We’ve also found that the most ecologically responsible places have the most delicious food. More and more in the food and environmental world, we are learning that our ecosystems are intricately connected, as is our center of the plate to the sides of it. The Pacific Northwest has a Salmon Safe label for vineyards, farms, and now even golf courses and university campuses. Let's hope for more fish friendly farming practices to spread across the United States.
10. Ocean Fashion
Fish leather fashions have hit the runways before, but now more products are showing up in the mainstream. Well, sort of mainstream. Salmon Sisters are making purses and wallets from Alaskan salmon leather. Chitoskin is a line of performance clothing that’s made from the fibers of crab shell.
This one is not strictly seafood, but ghost fishing nets are finding a second life as fashion. Bureo is turning abandoned nets into skateboards and sunglasses with their “Net Postiva” program that started in the fishing communities in Chile and is now operating in California. And yes, we have a bin at Moss Landing. Surfer Kelly Slater launched a new clothing line from Ocean Trash called, “Evolution Series”. Adidas is making aqua tennis shoes from waste plastic and recycled fishing nets. Maybe it will come full circle and one day there will be fishing raingear made from recycled nets.