On March 11, we hosted fishermen, industry experts, enthusiasts, and members of the media to learn more about the ins and outs of the seafood supply chain and the future of sustainable fishing.
The first in a series of three Food Forums hosted by Ecotrust, Local Catch was keynoted by Paul Greenberg — award-winning author and a leading voice for uncovering critical fisheries issues. Greenberg based his keynote on his findings from his latest book, American Catch, and took the audience along on his journey from a summer spent shocking juvenile salmon in Oregon rivers to the Fulton Fish Market in Manhattan and around the world exploring the ins and outs of the seafood market. Along the way, Greenberg unveiled several startling statistics:
- The United States controls more ocean waters than any other country — an expanse of 2.8 billion acres — but imports 80 percent of its seafood from abroad.
- Americans eat approximately 15 pounds of seafood per person per year.
- Of that, 4 pounds is shrimp, 90 percent of which is imported.
- The majority of foreign shrimp farms degrade vital mangrove ecosystems and often make use of slave labor.
- The second and third most highly consumed seafood in the American diet are tuna and salmon.
- 80 percent of the American salmon catch is exported while 2/3 of the salmon consumed in the States is imported.
- Much of the salmon consumed here is from Chile, where salmon could reasonably be considered an invasive species: None of the watersheds in Chile naturally support the fish.
- Often, when locally caught salmon enters the commodity supply chain, it is exported, processed, and reimported — sometimes as many as 4 times — virtually removing all connection to the person who caught it or the place it came from. “Big institutional purchases are really what’s driving the American economy right now,” Greenberg said.”Large institutions are buying this faceless, nameless product,”
Following his keynote, Greenberg joined a panel of regional experts including Reid Ten Kley, wild salmon fisherman and owner of Iliamna Fish Company; Aaron Longton, commercial fisherman and board president of the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team; and Erik Viegas, seafood coordinator for Whole Foods Market of Portland.
Aaron Longton, Port Orford fisherman
Whether it’s fraud or just convenient business, a lot of things have been commoditized. On the Oregon coast, we have 94 different species of rockfish, but they’re sold as snapper. There’s no snapper on the West Coast. It’s from the lower Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. Why did that ever happen? I’m not sure, but it hides a lot of sin because some of those species are over-fished. We have finally started selling all our rockfish specifically identified by what species it is. It took a lot of divvying up, and we had to stop and start to get it going, but that’s something that not too many people have ever done. …There’s a lot more to fish than just the few species and prime cuts you’re familiar with. If we ever get complaints about black cod, it’s about the texture. It’s very delicate fish, but it’s 1.5 times higher in omega 3 fatty acids than Chinook salmon. As far as health benefits, it is the best there is.
“Fishing is local.” –Aaron Longton
We started a campaign to market our fish direct to consumers in 2009 with some wholesale accounts and restaurant connections in the Rogue Valley. We finally worked into selling fish through a CSF (community-supported fisheries) model. We have only 400 living wage jobs in Port Orford. One hundred of them are in fishing. We’ve added 7 to that.
Paul Greenberg, author
You see it in the Gulf States, you see it in the way that the Mississippi was transformed from a river with a 200-mile floodplain to a floodplain that’s often less than a mile. All of that drained and pinched so that agriculture could come in and get access to that fertile land. You see it with oyster country where big ag is putting a lot of fertilizers, a lot of pollutants into the water that make it not possible to grow things like oysters and other shellfish. I think we need to solve those problems, but I also think that we have to prioritize seafood in this country in a way that we don’t.
“Generally, we have sacrificed seafood for landfood.” –Paul Greenberg
…Aquaculture is the fastest growing food system on the planet. It’s growing at 7 to 8 percent per year. About 100 years ago, everything we ate from the ocean was wild. We’re just crossing the threshold where more than 50 percent is soon to be farmed.
Eric Viegas, Whole Foods Market seafood coordinator
It gets harder the more you scale up, but to this day, if someone walks into our store on 12th and Couch Street, talks to the fish monger, and has a great product, they’ll get in our doors. It’s about making sure that you have people who are engaged and empowered in the stores and can bring those great products to light and nurture the relationships.
“It’s about balance, making sure that you don’t build your business model to be all about looking at fish as a commodity.” –Eric Viegas
We started with the (Monterey Bay Aquarium) color-coded ranking system in 2009. Initially, we put everything out, gave all the information, and let the customers vote with their dollar. But we felt like we were doing a disservice to our customers by putting the red-ranked species out there. On Earth Day in 2012 we said no more red-ranked species. It was overwhelmingly positive.
Reid Ten Kley, Alaska fisherman
Pebble Mine is proposed near the headwaters of where our fish are born. Lake Iliamna is the name of our business and where our homestead is. We can just dip our water bottle in that water and drink it. But they’re talking about this massive mine. We find ourselves aligned with the conservationists and environmentalists because we want clean food, and we can do it in a way that’s not subtractive.
“We calculated that we’ve saved Portland families about $370,000 on the market price of the salmon through our program.” –Reid Ten Kley
It’s our full time job: We take the orders in April, we catch the fish for them, we bring it back in 20-pound boxes, and everybody gets to serve their family a wild salmon dinner that’s affordable for them.