No exercise in seafood education is complete without a discussion about sustainability. Since there really isn’t a universally accepted definition of the term, we at The Lobster Place like to start here:
“Sustainability is about balancing the economic and nutritional needs of today with preservation of ocean resources for tomorrow.”
Industry, Government (agencies like NOAA/FDA) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s like Monterey Bay Aquarium; Blue Ocean Institute) each have an obligation to work together towards achieving this balance. It’s our belief however, that consumer preferences must also help drive continuous, incremental improvements to the way we manage our ocean’s resources. Of course, without clear, concise information, the consumer has no basis for making good decisions. That’s where we come in.
Throughout our website, you’ll find links to Government, Industry and NGO sites that have information about our products. We take this approach in the hopes of showing you some of the different perspectives that exist while at the same time, providing a good framework for decision-making.
At the end of the day, we’re not in the business of dictating what you should and shouldn’t eat. We just want to be transparent about where are food comes from and how it’s produced – the rest is up to you.
The seafood business is extremely dynamic and somewhat different from just about every part of the food industry. That’s because sourcing—or going out and finding our products—is an extremely difficult task. Start with the fact that fresh seafood is highly perishable; so after it’s caught or harvested, what’s here today will probably be gone tomorrow. Then, figure in that most fishermen, seafood dealers and importers are small, “mom and pop-type” businesses scattered around the country. Finally, throw in unpredictable weather, constantly changing regulations and the sheer difficulty of getting products from there to here. Just getting fish into our facilities is a job unto itself – but it helps shape the unique character of fishmongers and the fishmongering business that we embrace.
In general, The Lobster Place purchases seafood from dealers and importers throughout the United States and Canada. Those vendors are the direct link with the fishermen and fish farmers who bring the ocean’s bounty ashore. Most of our products, including live lobster, arrive at our facility in the Bronx via refrigerated truck, though occasionally we will use air freight to source products harvested on the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii. Each night, starting at around 10pm, our team of highly experienced fish buyers, butchers and receivers culls through shipments of thousands of pounds of lobster, finfish, shellfish and frozen products to assure quality and freshness. By 6am, they’ve filleted, packed and labeled about 200 orders to be delivered to the best restaurants, hotels and caterers in the city – not to mention our retail store in Chelsea Market.
Aquaculture has gotten a bad rap over the past few years. Concerns about the environmental impact of farming operations; the various forms of feeds, dyes and antibiotics that different farms use; and the carbon-efficiency of aquaculture have taken center stage in the farmed vs. wild debate. And while we agree that there are farms that the consumer should avoid, we also feel that responsible aquaculture is an important part of achieving the sustainability balance. The following is a quick run through of some of the important questions you should consider when buying farmed or wild seafood. We hope this will empower you to make informed decisions. If you still have questions you can always call, e-mail or stop by for a chat. That’s what we’re here for.
What is “Farmed” Seafood?
Aquaculture or fish farming refers to raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosures. When done properly, the goals of fish farming are to provide an inexpensive, consistent source of protein, while simultaneously reducing pressure on wild fish stocks. When evaluating fish farming operations, consider these questions:
What is wild seafood?
Wild seafood is the last truly organic protein in the world. It is born and bred in a completely natural environment without direct feeding, medicinal or scientific input from mankind. While eating wild seafood appeals to our animal instincts, it is a finite resource that we need to manage effectively to ensure the oceans bounty can be enjoyed by generations to come. When evaluating the sustainability of wild fisheries, consider these questions:
Different fishing methods have different impacts on the environment, the fish stock and possibly the quality of the fish that reaches your plate. Federal and state governments strictly regulate the methods available to commercial fishermen as part of their fisheries resource management plans. For example, commercial shrimpers working the waters of the Gulf of Mexico must install turtle excluder devices in their nets to keep marine turtles from becoming unintended bi-catch. Likewise, Northeastern ground fishermen must use an 8” net mesh to keep juvenile fish from being harvested. There are just some of the measures already being taken to achieve the sustainability balance.
The single most important determinant of seafood quality is how the product is handled from the moment its caught until it reaches your plate. “Handling” includes the harvesting process and while the fishing method is not necessarily indicative of quality, it can have an impact on how pristine that piece of Cod in your pan is. In general, hook and line caught fish have the lowest probability of being damaged in the harvesting process while net or dredge caught products are susceptible to being crushed as they’re hauled aboard.
Dredge:The dredge is used for collecting bi-valves, such as clams and scallops that inhabit the sea floor. To collect the shellfish, the dredge has an open-ended metal frame where a holding bag, typically made out of metal rings or mesh, is attached. The fishing vessel drags the dredge over the seafloor digging up and collecting the shellfish as it goes along.
Harpoon:Once a prolific way of catching fish, the harpoon is rarely used in commercial fisheries these days, with only a handful of big game fish (Sword, Tuna, Marlin and Shark) being caught by Harpoon. Harpoons can be deployed by hand or shot from a gun.
Gillnet:Gillnets are strings of single, double or triple netting walls intended to remain stationary. As the name implies, fish become entangled in the nets by their gills. Gillnets are deployed vertically near the surface, in mid-water or on the bottom and have floatation devices on the upper line and weights on the lower line to keep the net in an upright position. There are two types of gillnets employed: the drift net and the set or anchor net. The set, or anchor net, is the only commercial type employed as drift nets have been banned in international waters because of high associated rates of by-catch.
Hook:Catching fish by hook-and-line has been practiced for centuries. With the hook-and-line method, artificial or natural bait is attached to a hook fixed to the end of a line. This type of harvesting can be separated into four categories: hand line, pole and line, troll line and long-line.
Seine: A seine is a motion net typically used to catch schooling pelagic fish. A netting wall is used to encircle a school of fish. The top of the net floated while the bottom is weighted in order to keep the netting wall in an upright position. The seine has long ropes attached to the ends of the nets, which allow the fisherman to haul and herd the fish. The fishermen use the lines to close off the bottom of the net in order to trap the fish in an inverted, umbrella-shaped enclosure. Either one boat or two boats can be used. Occasionally spotter aircraft are used to direct vessels to developing schools of fish.
Trap and Pot: Trap and Pots are the primary method of catching commercially important species such as crab and lobster. The trap allows the targeted species to enter voluntarily but is designed to make it impossible to escape. Generally bait, either natural or artificial, is used to lure the species in.
Trawl: Trawling is one of the most important and efficient fishing methods used today. A trawl is employed from the surface down to great depths depending on the target species. The trawl is dragged by a boat or trawler and consists of a cone-shaped net with a wide mouth that tapers into a narrow end where the fish collect. Trawlers range in size from small outboard-powered vessels to large freezer factory trawlers.