Life After Shrimp
Some of the most crucial lessons at the Aquarium’s Sustainability Institute involved salmon, shrimp and tuna.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Rick Moonen, as the star chef at the Mandalay Bay’s rm Seafood, knows what happens in Las Vegas: a lot of shrimp eating.
“They serve 60,000 pounds of shrimp in Vegas on a daily basis,” the sustainability advocate told the food industry providers, media and chefs assembled for last week’s Sustainable Foods Institute, a daylong conference at the Aquarium designed to connect food-production decisions to the health of soil, water and ocean wildlife. “That’s more than the rest of country.”
That kind of consumption represents a problem besides long buffet lines – many shrimp farmers use questionable practices to meet that kind of demand.
The news didn’t get much more uplifting at the Institute’s most riveting panel, “Shrimp, Salmon, Tuna: How we deal with the demand for the Big Three?” – tuna and salmon are similarly problematic to harvest healthily, even as their popularity remains super high. An esteemed group joined Moonen to look at such sobering currents, to fish for some small schools of hope, and to offer ways to cope, with the Marine Stewardship Council’s Brad Ack, Monterey Fish Market owner and award-winning author Paul Johnson, and Aquarium aquaculture chief Corey Peet also weighing in.
The reality: Salmon fisheries along the West Coast are so damaged by aquaculture and over fishing that an unprecedented fishing ban is in place. The ocean’s blue fin tuna – which Moonen compares to lions of the Serengeti – are almost wiped out. Shrimp farmers the world over are shooting their bottom feeders full of antibiotics and tearing apart swamps to make room for farms.
It all translates to a lot of pressure for the conscious eater. “There’s a lot of stress in eating today,” Moonen said. “But we don’t want the perfect solution – we just want to get better.”
Peet hit on a similar theme, saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” He pointed out that many eaters reject all aquacultured species, while a number of farms are run well, particularly those with mollusks.
“Aquaculture is here to stay,” he said. “We have to be careful not to paint all aquaculture with the same brush.”
Moonen called on chefs and consumers alike to change their diets to include different types of fish, many of which were featured at Cooking for Solutions: tilapia, catfish, barramundi – and other types of tuna (pole-caught yellowfin from the Pacific and big eye from Hawaii) and salmon besides the over-taxed Chinook (sockeyes, kohos, chums and pinks). “Chefs are supposed to be creative, let’s be responsible with our creativity,” he said. “Diversity is the biggest answer.”
When talk swam to shrimp, panel moderator Kristine Kidd, Bon Appétit’s food editor, and Monterey Fish’s Johnson encouraged investigation and moderation. “You have to look very carefully to distinguish between American shrimp [which are all subject to strict standards] and others,” Kidd said. “They’re very similarly packaged.” And priced differently.
“Rather than six ounces of cheaper, [much less sustainable] shrimp,” Johnson said, “for the same price have four ounces of environmentally savvy shrimp.”
Ack asked the audience to tap resources like his council and Seafood Watch so they don’t have to “go to night school for a degree in fishery science.”
“There has to be consumer demand for our [sustainable] label before companies will pay to invest what it takes to pass inspection,” he said. “Part of our model is to help create that demand.”