Photo: Randy Son of Robert, Flickr
While it's not exactly Matthew Broderick, Marlon Brando and some tasty Komodo dragon, a "Dinner of Supposed 'Blacklisted' Fish" is being sponsored by the Culinary Guild of New England and Legal Sea Foods.
According to the press release, widespread discussion on sustainable fish "is flawed by outdated scientific findings that unfairly turn the public against certain species of fish. In a direct effort to counter existing misinformation about sustainability, the menu for this event is deliberately designed to serve what is commonly believed to be outlawed or blacklisted fish."
The dinner, scheduled for January 24, in Boston, will feature black tiger shrimp, cod cheeks and prosciutto-wrapped hake. And while all three species are indeed listed in Seafood Watch's red "Avoid" column for reasons that include pollution, loss of habitat, use of trawls, overfishing and depleted populations; we're still trying to figure out what exactly blacklisted means (is it the McCarthy era for fish?), and which specific scientific reports are "outdated." What we do know is the dinner will be led by Legal Sea Foods' president and CEO Roger Berkowtiz, who says he's trying to create more dialogue and push the accuracy of assessments of fisheries.
"I always found it curious that chefs and restaurateurs were the last to get information about sustainable seafood. Oftentimes it was from Monterey [Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program] that blacklisted everything, or a group like Chefs Collaborative -- you get a group of people that work off a particular science, and I would argue that science isn't necessarily balanced," Berkowitz told Slashfood in a telephone interview.
Berkowitz says he sources the black tiger shrimp from a farm in Vietnam that meets with Legal Sea Foods guidelines. The cod come from day-boat Gloucester fishermen who are using hook and line methods, rather than more damaging trawlers (although it was unclear if the cod were being fished from the Gulf of Maine or Georges Bank areas -- which are managed separately). Atlantic hake, he says, are still an underutilized fishery.
Ken Peterson, spokesman for the Monterey Bay Aquarium says it's important to have some objective basis for analyzing a fishery.
"If they're going to sell tiger shrimp, are they working with the World Wildlife Fund's Aquaculture Dialogues? There's a broad process out there trying to come up with universally acceptable guidelines for what aquaculture looks like using assessments and protocols that are transparent. Are they participating in the forums that exist rather than going it on their own with less transparency? Transparency is how consumers gain confidence," he said.
Peterson does agree that a chef or restaurateur could have detailed information on a specific fishery that supports its claims of sustainability, despite a red listing by Seafood Watch or other similar guides, but says that list is narrow.
"The challenge for consumers is how do you know what you're dealing with when you're in a restaurant. For the individual who is walking into any old restaurant, they're not going to have that information, and their purveyor won't have that level of information. With Seafood Watch, you have the best available science updated twice a year."
Will black tiger shrimp, cod or hake move off the group's red list? Maybe. The new guides are scheduled to be released January 11. In the meantime, while we're all-for more dialogue, we're glad the Culinary Guild of New England and Legal Sea Foods didn't try to make their point by dishing even more high-profile species like bluefin tuna or Caspian Sea beluga caviar.