Tiffin Project

How Much Do You Know About Seafood?

by Hunter Moyes on April 12, 2012

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I thought that I knew quite a bit, before doing a little talk at a UBC sustainability conference, run by students and involving people from the environmental community. At the time I was half-involved in Vancouver’s environmental community and full-time-involved in its restaurant scene (running Burgoo as a “Head Chef” up on West 10th) – so they wanted me to speak ecologically from the food angle with PowerPoint et al. I have some experience presenting, but not to an audience of University students. It was intimidating – straight up. At the time, I’d been reading a lot about the word seafood as it relates to the words sustainable aquaculture. After a few days of research, I realized that I didn’t really know much about seafood at all (except how to make it delicious).

A few days of research really was just one phone call, to a guy who’d rather not be mentioned by name. I started him down the road towards sustainability when I was a Chef and he was a mover of seafood. He was in charge of his company’s seafood sales accounts for the West coast of North America, and he worked for the first, second or third largest (can’t tell – sorry) seafood company in the world. He’s now the company’s lead sustainability man. He brought me an envelope the next day with more information than I could handle about the global seafood trade, and we talked of the subject of sustainable aquaculture, since he’s always claimed that his company plays by the book. It was the future of his business, too, after all.

The envelope was full of monthly reports worth thousands of dollars – among other things, that I’d love to list. The numbers included in these reports were mind-blowing. They included views on imports and exports by port, by country, by year, and by seafood type. Punctuating all of it were little bullet points detailing how all stocks were in decline.

Numbers barely meant anything to me – they were too big. In one report on annual salmon harvests, the recorded yield was reported as being in the ballpark of 103,392,486 pounds. A report on crab estimated that crab’s recorded yearly yield was 32,469,093 pounds. Shrimp? How much shrimp (of all sizes and distinctions) – comparably? A year-scope snapshot as of December of 2009 featured a number just over 1.2 billion pounds. Wrap your mind around that one for a second!

At the time, it was about a year before the Gulf of Mexico BP oil catastrophe, and there were many pages on the Gulf’s declining shrimp reserves. Also at the time, David Suzuki was speaking out against a potential Marine Stewardship Council green-light approval of BC Sockeye salmon after a startlingly-low spring spawn. The information was just too much. It actually got in the way of my presentation, and so I cut most of it out and barely included anything about seafood at all! I ended up mostly talking about the environmental benefits of vegetarianism (which I’d just started to become serious about at the time). It turned out that, despite “Chefdom” – I didn’t know much about ocean life at all (except how to make it delicious – really delicious).

There is much more to appreciating seafood than just taste though.

It goes without saying that I love seafood as a Chef and a food-o-phile (thought I force myself to refrain from eating it as much as I’d like to, and it’s the only protein I eat that isn’t vegetable-based). Many do – too many. It’s true to say that the world has a massive appetite for seafood. It’s just as true to say that this generation of consumption could wipe out all seafood stocks, , once and for all. I won’t candy coat that – won’t get into it either (today). That’s not what I’m writing about in this particular article series.

The subject of this series is the sustainable seafood movement. What are its current manifestations? What does it mean at a corporate level? What are the movement’s strengths, and what are its weaknesses? What of shark fin soup? What are Chefs doing? What can you do? And who are “the who’s who” of the sustainable aquaculture scene in Vancouver?

~ Hunter Moyes

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