Sustainability” is a popular buzzword when it comes to seafood.Usually, when someone mentions "sustainability" I check my wallet, because it means someone is trying to make me pay more for something than it's really worth, whether it's fish or electric power.
Ideally, it means farming or catching fish and shellfish in such a way that the animals will be able to reproduce in sufficient numbers so that we can continue eating them forever. Their habitats will remain intact and their populations will remain fairly constant.That's the whole goal of fisheries management, which, while having a nice scientific theoretical underpinning, is usually practiced by managers and politicians more interested in what economics has to say more than the science.
But as demand for seafood rises, some chefs wonder whether “sustainability” is a realistic term.
“It just doesn’t make any sense. You can’t just keep harvesting wild fish and expect them to be there forever. It’s not realistic,” Jeremy Sewall, chef-owner of Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row34 in Boston and Lineage in Brookline, Mass., told Nation’s Restaurant News earlier this year.
“We all know it’s a marketing term,” said David Varley, executive chef and culinary director of RN74 in Seattle. “It’s a value-add for the people that are selling it to chefs, and for the chefs who are selling it to customers, but what does it really mean?”
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which governs American fisheries, claims that any fish harvested in the United States “is inherently sustainable as a result of the rigorous U.S. management process that ensures fisheries are continuously monitored, improved and sustainable.”And I could go on and on about oysters, striped bass, cod, and many more. Fisheries management often amount to managing the decline of a desirable species to a sufficiently low rate that all parties concerned can blame all the others.
However, Varley, who fishes recreationally for steelhead salmon on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, has seen the population of that fish on the Hoh River dwindle as fewer of them return from the ocean.
“The numbers clearly indicate that this is not a sustainable fishery. There’s nothing sustainable about it. The only thing it’s sustaining is the eventual extinction of the fish in this system,” Varley said.
Wombat-socho has the weekly compendium up at The Other McCain: "Rule 5 Sunday: Pipe Dreams."