Less Threat of Depleting the World's Seafood Stocks


Barton Seaver, a chef, restauranteur, and internationally recognized speaker from Maine, USA, delivered a speech to Seafood West 2018, at Thunderbird Hall. He spoke on the topic of seafood in conjunction with the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association AGM, this fall, in Campbell River, B.C..

Seaver describes how he went from "negative to positive" on farming the oceans for salmon. "When I was raised in Washington, D.C., life was an exploration of ethnic food. A lot of the refugee community used food as their identity. It was there I began to learn about how the power of food defines who we are."

Later he was able to fish Chesapeake Bay on a regular basis and caught all kinds of seafood and fish. It was a defining notion that you could catch this tremendous variety of food on a sustainable basis from the water beside your home.

"Sustainability is a 'passive' narrative," says Seaver. "It's not sexy. It's a 'do no harm' subject, and, at the same time, we have to focus on the imperative need to save marine ecosystems." 

He says the human condition is the product of resilient ecosystems. "We are wholly dependent on resilient ecosystems. It is important to realize consumption has an impact on food systems, even as our personal health is demanding we get more people eating more seafood."

Seaver dedicated part of his talk to the idea of educating people across all demographics on the consumption of seafood to the ultimate benefit of a healthier society. "Is it seen as a protein? Seafood has roadblocks. We in North America lack a culture around seafood production. The food culture of seafood exists in pockets," usually concentrated in close-knit communities situated next to the ocean.

He says it's not widely communicated what people are doing with seafood production. The seafood industry needs to work harder to create the social license to eat healthy by creating 'knowns' and 'familiarities.' "There is ignorance and almost religious zeal about the qualities of seafood. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) marked seafood tainted with mercury." This negatively impacts the perception of seafood on health, and it's wrong.

Furthermore, farmed salmon adds another variable, and presently the truth is not a lens through which we are looking, he says, "Fish farmers care, and we should see it for what it is, a food production that is imperative, essential, and a beacon of hope in human diet."

Obtaining the social license to grow fish in the oceans is done in the face of a treacherous 'court of public opinion,' he says. Arguments are always seeking validation, and most of them are made by people who are emotionally charged. In the culture opposed to aquaculture, people don't eat seafood.

How does the aquaculture industry approach this hostile court? "Educate chefs who lack seafood literacy. Seafood literacy does not exist in the training of chefs," which is unfortunate when it is the chef fraternity that leads people to food trends and creates the tastes enjoyed across society. 

Educating chefs is necessary to move people up from the present average 15 lbs a year of seafood consumed by individuals in North America. The Seattle Times  says, meanwhile, "Americans' meat consumption set to hit a record in 2018. The average consumer will eat 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry this year."

The second necessity is to educate youth and especially students about the 'very cool' side of aquaculture, focusing on the environmental aspects that promise a more sustainable future for seafood in the human diet. If we are growing fish instead of hunting and catching fish, there will be less threat of depleting the world's seafood stocks through over-fishing.

Aquaculture is new and innovative and the operators use systems to create good quality food. Seaver encourages the fish farmers to create excitement about the technological innovations in their industry. 

In his closing remarks, Seaver discussed the nature of employment equity in aquaculture. It employs people from all walks of life, and every culture, and especially interesting is the fact that 54 percent of the aquaculture workforce is women. "Aquaculture should take a stand for equity, for justice, and for what you are doing as contributing members of society."

Freelance Writing by Mack McColl in 2018