One of my favorite things about the Green Chefs/Blue Ocean online course for chefs and culinary students is how we discuss innovations in different fishing methods. If there’s a catch method that has high bycatch, we also let folks know what gear modifications are being developed to reduce bycatch.
It’s important to recognize that seafood production is evolving and efforts are being made to improve catch and farm methods–by increasing productivity, or decreasing negative environmental impacts such as bycatch and habitat damage from gear to catch wild fish and effluent from farm operations.
The past couple of weeks I felt like innovations were cropping up left and right. Here are some highlights:
– Earlier this month I met with architecture students from Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute. What’s that you say?– “What’s architecture got to do with fish?” As it turns out, these students were tasked with designing a demonstration project with Battery Park in mind.
Battery Park is located all the way at the southern tip of Manhattan in NYC. It’s where you catch the ferry to Ellis Island and the statue of Liberty and it’s also where you can catch your breath after a day of sight-seeing with lovely benches, gardens, walkways and even an urban farm.
These students were tasked with using their creative know-how to design elements that would teach the parks visitors about food production. I was happy to see that some students approached this from an aquaculture perspective with sketches for raceway fish farms that would pull water from, and return it to, New York Harbor, while growing plants and fish together to help park visitors understand food production (when plants and fish are farmed together it’s called aquaponics). While their sketches are far from being a reality, the innovation and creativity on display left me hopeful for the future of seafood production (and the public’s understanding of it).
– On February 10th, Safeway announced that their Safeway-brand cans of Skipjack Tuna (often called chunk-light) would be caught without the use of Fish Aggregating Devices, or FADs. Open-ocean swimmers such as tuna, are often attracted to floating objects. Scientists think this is because the floating objects serve as structure for smaller fish to aggregate around and the smaller fish attract the larger tunas. Some fishing fleets place floating objects (FADs) in the water–a FAD can be as simple as a raft with a satellite buoy attached to make it easy to track. After a time, the boats return to catch the tuna that have gathered around the FAD. While this is a rather ingenious way for fishermen to capitalize on the natural behaviors of the fish they’re after, boats that use FADs often catch more bycatch–or unintended catch–than boats that are not using FADs. The International Sustainable Seafood Foundation, a group that unites companies and non-profits in calling for the use of science in tuna management, recently released a report noting that “Average proportion of non‐target species (compared to target species) in free‐school sets is 0.3% versus 1.7% in FAD schools in the Western Pacific Ocean, 0.8% versus 2.4% in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, 0.8% versus 3.6% in the Indian Ocean, 2.8% versus 8.9% in the Atlantic Ocean” [read the full report here]. In short–when FADs are used, there’s more bycatch.
Safeway’s announcement was another way of saying they’re taking steps to decrease the bycatch that results from their cans of chunk-light (Skipjack) Tuna. And that’s an innovation we’re happy to see.
– Last but not least, is an innovation in seafood distribution. I had a call last week to discuss the latest news on Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs) with Josh Stoll, one of the founders of the Walking Fish CSF in North Carolina.
CSFs are based on the Community Supported Agriculture model–allowing consumers to pay a lump sum to the farm (or in the case of a CSF- a fisherman) at the beginning of the season and receive a share of the food produced over the course of the season. CSF members meet at a central location to pick up their ‘share’ of the weekly catch.
CSFs have been cropping up all over– www.LocalCatch.org shows there are just over 20 CSFs with more than 80 pick up sites.
CSFs, like CSAs, have a number of benefits for both the producer and the person buying the share.
CSFs give consumers access to local seafood. In 2010, 86% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. was imported. Giving fishermen a local market where they can sell their goods means you’re supporting your community member _and_ getting food that’s from your local foodshed.
You’re also able to access more information about where and how the fish in your CSF was caught–information that’s not always readily available at the grocery store or restaurant.
Learning more about your seafood choices is the first step in choosing ocean-friendly and I’m excited to see CSFs continue to grow.
Do you have a CSF in your community?
Have you heard of innovations in seafood lately? If so, share a comment.
~ Kate McLaughlin, Seafood Program Director