At Terroir Symposium 2019 in Toronto, Terroir founder, Arlene Stein, moderated a vital main-stage panel aimed at helping food leaders better understand sustainable seafood procurement and informing an audience of chefs, restaurateurs, farmers and producers on how to make better and more informed buying decisions to ensure a sustainable future for our seas.
As international seafood stocks deplete at chronic rates, conversations and presentations such as this are crucial in allowing we, the industry, to act as vanguards for change by providing the information and tools we so desperately need to empower our choices.
Joining Arlene on stage were:
“Visit your local fisheries and buy from local fishermen because they understand better than anyone the health of our oceans and the problems found there.”
Jennifer Johnston is the owner of Fisherfolk, a company dedicated to bringing high quality Canadian fish and seafood directly from the boats and into Ontario.
With most of Fisherfolk’s stock coming from Canada’s east coast, Lake Erie and some west coast sources, Jennifer Johnston was clear about the problems facing all of the purely organic fisheries she works with. “Fishing is a culture and community of people and a livelihood but it’s a tough business to make money in” she told the audience, “most fisherman simply cannot afford to rely solely on the Canadian market and so the US and China represent important export markets for them.” It’s not a case of choosing to export because it’s better in these cases, people simply have to do what they can to survive.
In order to support the industry and prevent this, Jennifer was emphatic about consumers needing to engage at a local level. “Visit your local fisheries” she said, “and buy from local fishermen because they understand better than anyone the health of our oceans and the problems found there.” Supporting local producers also drives transparency and fair wages which provides healthier living standards for all involved. Once you’ve made that initial connection you can then also ask them about other factors affecting the industry such as tralling, labelling systems and frozen fish stocks - there’s a lot out there to learn and your local fisherman is the key!
“Most people associate fish farming with salmon which originally was a horrific industry, but many companies have improved their fishing methods & policies and are careful to farm more ethically”
This is a sentiment echoed by Ned Bell, executive chef at Ocean Wise and author of Lure, a cookbook collection of sustainable seafood recipes. Like Jennifer, Ned believes that knowing your fisherman and understanding the traceability of their product is the key to ensuring you are procuring and supporting sustainable seafood.
On the subject of fish farming, Ned also pointed out there’s lots we can do to educate ourselves on how the industry has evolved. “Most people associate fish farming with salmon which originally was a horrific industry, but many companies have improved their fishing methods & policies and are careful to farm more ethically” he pointed out. Arlene and Ned also explored why the subject of fish farming is so complex, mostly because it involves both fish and shellfish stocks, open-body water pens as well as land-based farms and so many other variables that mean there is no simple answer of what can be deemed ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Put simply: Farming is the oldest way that humans have cultivated species in a captured environment. Nowadays, we might do well to let go of fish farming’s previous mistakes and instead look towards future-focused producers who are cultivating sustainable seafood practises.
For Ned, certification goes a long way to bridging this gap in understanding: “Certification is not a perfect system” he agreed, “but it allows us to guide people to make the right choice and as chefs we should also become more educated.”
“Irresponsible and unregulated overfishing has resulted in significantly declining stocks, habitat damage and diminished, unpredictable yields”
An ambassador of sustainable farmed practises by using technology as a guide, Marvyn Budd, president and co-founder of Planet Shrimp, the largest indoor commercial shrimp farm in the world, also joined the debate.
“Irresponsible and unregulated overfishing has resulted in significantly declining stocks, habitat damage and diminished, unpredictable yields” Marvyn told the Toronto audience, agreeing that many traditional aqua-farming practices have been environmentally damaging and unsustainable. In shrimp farming especially, he pointed out, they’ve been impaired by the widespread use of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and fungicides that have resulted in a poor quality products with limited food traceability and no measurements to ensure food safety. There has also been minimal regulation and oversights resulting in the mis-labelling of products. All in all, a fairly disastrous outlook.
Seeing all these problems at play, Marvyn sought to bring balance through a sustainable shrimp farming solution which produces premium quality tropical white shrimp in a facility that’s the first of its kind. So how does it work? Well Marvyn told us how the “animals” (as he refers to them) are raised on a land-based, bio-secure shrimp aquafarm in closed-loop clear water systems which are regulated by end-to-end integrated farm management tools that allow for complete product traceability.
Marvyn and his team currently produce 300,000lbs of shrimp per year and believe that their tracing power and continuous close monitoring of the species they farm is the key to not just their own success, but also to that of the whole industry.
“Wild capture has reached its limits”
With a career in spearheading sustainable seafood procurement at institutions such as the Marine Stewardship Council spanning 40+ years, Paul Uys, currently director of The Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph, also added his significant knowledge and prowess to the conversation. “Aquaculture is the key to sustainability,” he said, seeing it as the missing critical jigsaw piece in both social and environmental dialogues.
Although Paul is engaged with both the Marine Stewardship Council’s ‘Support Wild Caught Species’ programme and aquaculture stewardship dialogues at the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, it all comes down to the simple fact that “wild capture has reached its limits” as he points out. And with the ever increasing pressure on natural capital as well as the associated problems of traceability, verification, certification and chain of command validity, aquaculture ensures we have programs in place that can keep the industry alive whilst addressing the fact that the challenges facing while capture are key to societies all around the world.
If you’d like to read more about sustainable fishing practises in your county, the Marine Stewardship Council presents a great first step in gaining knowledge. Then, as our panellists all agree, make sure you get to know your local fisherman or fishmonger and start asking the questions you need answered.
If you’d like to join Terroir conversations such as this, keep an eye on our Berlin-based Terroir Talk events for monthly meetings of informative conversation and knowledge sharing.