Legal Sea Foods, Thank You for Sparking a Debate About Sustainable Seafood

Dear Mr. Berkowitz,

Thank you for sparking a dialogue regarding possible exceptions to “blacklisted” seafood.  This is an issue that Chefs Collaborative has been working on for years.

Back in 2007 we published a Communiqué for our members, titled “Lists v. Local: The Complexities of Sourcing Sustainable Seafood.” The document introduced the concept that lists can be a good starting point but chefs need to take a broader and deeper approach, by talking with each other as well as with conservationists, fishermen, and purveyors.

In 2009 the Collaborative released an updated Seafood Solutions booklet to guide chefs through their sustainable seafood purchasing decisions.  Nowhere in this booklet will a chef find a list of “good fish” and “bad fish.”  Instead, the guide suggests that chefs get to know their sources, ask lots of questions (and explains what questions to ask), support small-scale fisheries, and never stop questioning and learning.

At both our 2009 and 2010 National Summits we had panel discussions highlighting ways for chefs to dig deeper than lists.  And finally, one of our best and most in depth resources is our interactive online sustainable seafood training program, Green Chefs Blue Ocean.  The program is intended for chefs who are interested in learning about all aspects of sustainable seafood—including how to purchase, prepare, and promote sustainable seafood in their kitchens and restaurants.  Lessons give information on the basics of sustainable seafood; farmed and wild fish and shellfish; local, regional and imported seafood; and implementing sustainable seafood purchasing and a promotion in a restaurant.

We do take our job educating the culinary community seriously.  Many credible scientists and academics are sounding the alarm about fish populations because of disturbing data, not opinion.  The Chefs Collaborative is proud of our history of encouraging chefs to think about issues, instead of merely telling them what to think.  We will continue providing our nationwide network of chefs with the information and tools necessary to make sustainable purchasing decisions and would be glad to deepen our relationship with Legal Seafood and its chefs.

With thanks,

The Chefs Collaborative

2011-01-10T18:51:36+00:00January 10th, 2011|Blog|6 Comments

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  1. Thom Fox January 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    While Legal Seafoods has the right to sell whatever they so desire perhaps it would be more appropriate for them to add a substantial level of transparency to their own criteria in regards to what and why they sell otherwise ‘blacklisted seafood’.
    Legal Seafoods are a fish purveyor first and while they possess the ability to influence their clients’ purchasing decisions they are not a verifier of production and sourcing. Third party verification is the way to go in order to claim any amount of credibility. Recognized third party verifiers utilize peer evaluated research method, analyze decades of data and engage in ongoing onsite inspections of production in order to reach their decisions.
    Chefs Collaborative initiatives are well thought out and vetted and have been developed through dialogues with credible third party verification organizations.
    I would hope that Legal Seafoods can and would do the same.

  2. John Turenne January 10, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    Well said. No one can argue the merits of educating ourselves. It’s all about ‘understanding the real stories behind our food’.

  3. Judith Klinger January 10, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    I think the Chefs Collaborative letter is a reasonable response to the Legal Seafood “Blacklist” dinner.
    My issues with the dinner, or more precisely with the press release, is the vagueness of the claims being made. Who is using outdated scientific information? Be specific..what into? where?
    The menu descriptions don’t calm my fears because there isn’t enough back up, verifiable information given about the fish.
    Why knock Chefs Collaborative? They don’t have anything to gain by pointing out the problems of overfishing, trawling, etc. But Legal Seafood has everything to gain by sustaining consumer ignorance.

  4. bryan szeliga January 11, 2011 at 2:10 am

    Fact, shrimp is the number 1 seafood consumed in America. It is over 25% of the total seafood weight consumed per capita! Shrimp “continues to be the largest single commodity in value terms, accounting for 17 percent of the total value of internationally-traded fishery products” (data from United Nations seafood report).
    Mr. Berkowitz, why is it so important for American’s to eat more shrimp?

    Fact, in 1883 Thomas Huxley “I still believe the cod fishery…and all the great fisheries are inexhaustible” (data from The Empty Oceans by Richard Ellis 2003). Currently cod is depleted in the North Sea and in the Faeroes (data from United Nations seafood report). Also, please keep in mind that only 5-7% of the roughly 200,000 lbs of cod and haddock landed in Gloucester each week is caught by hook and line.
    Mr. Berkowitz, are you saying that 5-7% caught in a responsible way constitutes a sustainable fishery? Should this low percent justify a ‘best choice’ by Seafood Watch?

    Fact, for Hake “The status of the coastal fishes remains fully exploited or depleted.” “The important hake resources remain fully exploited to overexploited although there are signs of some recovery in the deepwater hake stock off South Africa.” (data from United Nations seafood report).
    Mr. Berkowitz, how is hake underutilized if the fisheries are fully exploited?

    Fact, Due to over overexploitation, pollution, and habitat destruction in the United Sates, approximately 1,375 of the nearly 2,000 species on endangered species list are found in part or entirely in the U.S. and its waters. (data from NOAA)

    I am a chef, fly fisherman, and salmon conservationist. Therefore, Similar to Mr. Berkowitz, I to have a vested financial interest in eating seafood. However, unlike Mr. Berkowitz I want future generations to have the opportunity to eat seafood.

    Mr. Berkowitz can you please share your marine biologist contacts who are showing there are more fish in the sea then conventional seafood conservation organizations report? As a chef and conservationist I would really like to learn more about where you are getting your data. Please do tell, where we can find this accurate science you are talking about! Are you aware that among others, social impact, economic impact, environmental impact, consumer health, animal welfare are all part of the equation? It is a very complex process. Yes, some fisherman are responsible and do fish sustainably in ‘blacklist’ fisheries. However, just because one or even several shrimp farms in Vietnam are responsible it does not mean that black tiger shrimp should be removed from the ‘avoid’ category. Also, I would gladly welcome the debate on the state of seafood! I kick off the debate by saying, “I do agree that there there are some fisheries, fisherman, and seafood species that are classified as ‘avoid’ which are in-fact responsible. However, denouncing the organizations that are working hard to preserve some form of integrity in sustainable seafood is not the right way to go about sharing information on sustainable seafood.”

    Fisherman are not loosing jobs because of the MSC or Seafood Watch. The real reason those fisherman are out of business is because there are not enough fish in the ocean to support their harvest! Between 1995 and 2003 the US government paid New England fisherman $60 million in subsidies and the Canadian Government provided its fisherman over $600 million in subsidies to off set loss of jobs due to depressed cod stocks. (data from The Empty Oceans by Richard Ellis 2003)

    I do agree the MSC and Seafood Watch list do need improved. However, I believe the opposite of Mr. Berkowitz. The list are too loose in allowing fisheries to claim sustainability. Example the Alaska salmon fishery is MSC certified sustainable when over 32% of the fish harvest is hatchery produced. My data is backed by scientific based evidence. I am not against serving a responsible sources shrimp, hake, or cod, however, our oceans are in a state of crisis and a ‘blacklist’ dinner is not the answer to preserving them for generations to come.

  5. Lyndon Virkler January 11, 2011 at 7:40 am

    At New England Culinary Institute we have found the Green Chefs Blue Oceans Curriculum to be an invaluable tool in educating our students on the complexities of seafood sustainability. It goes well beyond good and bad lists and provides great information on how to be an informed consumer.
    I also agree the 2010 Chefs Collaborative Summit provided a great forum for a wide ranging discussion on the topic.

  6. susan holaday January 11, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Debate is good. And this is a complex issue. It’s good to see issues brought to light and discussed because we all learn more.

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