The word “sustainable” is the latest buzzword in the food industry—be it for seafood or something else. Yet, its implications are much more than simply a trend. When talking about sustainable seafood, it’s important to understand the terminology refers to more than just the species: the geographical region from where the fish comes from and the way it’s caught or farmed are equally important. Many consumers believe any seafood that’s not endangered is OK to eat … and that it is, therefore sustainable because the future of the species isn’t in danger, theoretically at least. But that simply isn’t the case.
To help decipher the sustainable seafood world, I talked with Mark Palicki, Vice President of Marketing for Fortune Fish & Gourmet, the Midwest’s premier fresh and frozen seafood processor and specialty food distributor servicing fine restaurants, hotels, country clubs and grocers throughout the region. Note, portions of this article were this article was originally published on EdibleIndy.com.
SHAUNA NOSLER: For people like you and I who live and breathe sustainable fishing, we know why it’s important to choose sustainable fish for our plates. But what about everyone else? Do you think the rest of America is catching (no pun intended) on?
MARK PALICKI: There’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace on what is sustainable or what we should or shouldn’t purchase. With everything in the media and a lot of misinformation, food right now in general is difficult to navigate. Something that is “bad” to eat gets negative press, but often the item gets fixed and is no longer on the “bad” list. When this happens, it’s very hard to change the negative perception. Unfortunately, we face this everyday with seafood items. For example, if a fishery was struggling and a management plan was put in place to help it recover, should we stop buying that fish? I don’t think so, if we don’t purchase the fish we are not supporting the plan or the people trying to make a living while following the plan.
We are also a founding member of Sea Pact which is a group of likeminded companies dedicated to driving stewardship and continuous improvement of social, economic and environmental responsibility throughout the global seafood chain. We provide funding to fishery and aquaculture projects around the world to improve the global seafood supply chain.
SN: How can people find out if what they’re purchasing is sustainable?
MP: Talk to the person selling it and listen with an open mind, don’t go by what you are reading on the internet or heard in the past. A lot of the information is old or just not accurate. There is a story with every seafood product and we should all be telling it. I would also say if it looks and sounds really good in person or on a menu, order it.
SN: Any thoughts on how to get people to eat more seafood?
MP: I know this goes against everything you are writing in this article, but I would say forget about sustainability and what is on the “good” or “bad” list. Seafood is intimidating for many people. There are a ton of different species that all look different and taste different and most people are uncomfortable cooking seafood at home. If you add all the sustainability rules to that intimidation you just get mass confusion and they go and buy a chicken breast or some ground beef. We don’t eat enough seafood and honestly, we would all be a lot healthier if we ate more, so choose seafood at least twice a week, it is good for you. Let’s all celebrate what our ocean and fresh water lakes and rivers provide us, it is truly amazing.
BOTTOM LINE … “America,” says Palicki, “needs to eat more seafood, the average American only eats a little over 15-pounds per year. So, instead of trying to navigate the sustainability of fish for your plate, just choose fish and celebrate the amazing product that is on your plate.”