is this species sustainable?
Chefs have questions about sourcing seafood responsibly.
BY JAN GREENBERG
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP 1) This
cioppino from Rick Moonen features
a wealth of sustainable seafood.
2) & 3) Gulf Coast shrimp, right,
and crab. 4) Blackened Pacific cod
loin verde with tomato/watercress
salad from Sodexo chef Karl Elliott,
winner of the 2012 Recipes for a
Better Tomorrow Competition: The
Sustainable Seafood Challenge.
sk anyone to name the sustainable fish movement’s first and most visible
advocate and the person that comes to mind is most likely Rick Moonen, chef/owner of Rick
Like many activists, Moonen came to the movement accidentally. It was 1989, and as he stood on
the steps of New York’s City Hall with a group of white-clad chefs participating in a tourism promotion,
an onlooker called out a question about chefs and GMO (genetically modified organism) products.
“I figured the guy was a screwball,” says Moonen, “but since I had never heard of GMOs, I decided to
find out about them. And here’s why. Our business is based on trust. The customers to whom we serve
our food should expect us to be able to tell them what they are eating.
“My life changed that day. I began to become outspoken on food issues and talking out about what
I believed to be important.”
Soon after, however, a phone call from Nora Pouillon, chef/owner of Restaurant Nora in
Washington, D.C., forced Moonen to choose between business and what he believed to be the right
thing. “She asked, ‘Would you consider signing on to a give-swordfish-a-break campaign?’” says
Moonen, who had just taken over the kitchen at New York’s Oceana.
“Now, I had been buying swordfish for years at New York’s Fulton Fish Market, and had seen those
fish go from 200 pounds and up to below 100 pounds. I knew they were in trouble,” Moonen says. “The
organizers, Sea Web and the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council), wanted to announce it at a
press conference in the upstairs room at Oceana. But I was so new that I felt I couldn’t ask about giving
up a busy lunchtime space.” He says today he would do things differently.
PHOTO CREDITS Clockwise from top left: 1) Rick Moonen’s rm seafood 2) & 3) Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition 4) Mira Zaki Photography
who’s looking out for fish?
Launched in January 1998, Give Swordfish a Break was the first large effort to mobilize chefs
and consumers in support of fish conservation. More than 500 chefs signed on, removing swordfish
from their menus. It was successful, and in 2000, the boycott was called off as swordfish stocks had
reached 94% recovery.
More than 20 years earlier, in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and
Management Act to oversee wild fisheries in the U.S. passed; however, it was relatively ineffective
until the passage of the Sustainable Fisheries Act in 1996. Regional regulatory bodies administer
the act, which mandates that all fish stocks be evaluated for their status, and goals set for
rebuilding threatened stocks. The poster child for effective regulation is the Alaska fishery, which,
according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, generates $5.8 billion in annual revenue
and accounts for 78,500 jobs in Alaska. From those waters come salmon, pollock, crab, herring,
halibut, shrimp, sablefish and Pacific cod.
Recent advances in technology and science make both identifying threatened species and
maintaining stocks more accurate. The Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) catch-shares program
allows scientists to determine a species’ total allowable catch, and then gives fishermen a
percentage of that catch. Fishermen can fish when they choose, when the weather is good or fish
prices high. Under catch shares, there are many fewer fatalities and accidents in what is one of
the most dangerous professions.