Passionfish launches “The Kitchen Aquatic” ™ multi-media series

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P’fishers, we’re creating a new TV series called “The Kitchen Aquatic“(tm) featuring adventures in seafood cookery, spiced up with tales of ocean and seafood sustainability in action! The “fun with friends” book we’ve been developing, Ocean Tapas, will spawn from “The Kitchen Aquatic”, among other creative properties in the works.
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Inquire about fundraising opportunities by contacting us:
carl “at” passionfish “dot” org, patti “at” passionfish “dot” org, andrew “at” passionfish “dot” org
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Confusion over eco-labels? It could get worse before it gets better.

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P’fish’ers, we’ve learned this week that the wild Alaskan salmon fisheries have decided to part ways with the eco-label provided by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). As far as we’ve known, the MSC label has been the gold standard for certifying fisheries as ecologically sustainable.
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And, if you look at our own history, you’ll see that we’ve supported MSC 100 percent over the years.
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So, it came as a surprise this week to read the news on IntraFish, a seafood industry go-to source, that the Alaska wild salmon industry is going to work with a new eco-label certifier called Global Trust. I’m sure it’s super complicated behind the scenes but I wanted to add my perspective/s on this. [There are also certifiers for farm-raised seafood (aquaculture) such as the Global Aquaculture Alliance with its Best Aquaculture Practices label].
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The MSC certifies wild seafood and has been in existence since 1999. It was created by the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever: Giants in their respective sectors. The process is thorough, if not daunting, for fisheries that wish to be vetted. And expensive as the participating fisheries must renew their certifications every five years, while the participating retailers pay a licensing fee to use the MSC logo on their packaging. The MSC uses third-party certifying agencies and they promise an independent, transparent process. Over the years, they’ve grown substantially, so more and more MSC-certified products have entered the marketplace all over the world — giving us consumers confidence in the product and giving the retailers a price premium on their products.
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At Passionfish, our organization has promoted the MSC since our inception. We’ve held many public events featuring the MSC and the products of their eco-certified fisheries that had gone through their tough process– such as wild Alaskan salmon (and lesser knowns such as the Western Australia rock lobster!).
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While we’ve spent time promoting MSC-certified products, the BIG PLAYERS have shelled out dollars to promote the eco-label as “the best environmental choice in seafood” (the MSC motto). I’m talking about seafood wholesalers and retailers (buyers across the planet). The people who do the “dirty work” for us consumers by vetting products that are “good for us and for the environment” so we don’t have to. A massive buyer stuck in the middle right now is WalMart, the largest retailer in the U.S. They committed to buying only wild-caught seafood that has earned (& therefore depicts) the MSC seal of approval. Which means, they are now considering dropping wild Alaskan salmon. Why? Because they could lose brand loyalty. Brand loyalty = customer loyalty = TRUST. They want their customers to have trust in their products. It remains to be seen what they will do…
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The buyers (wholesalers and retailers) are caught in the middle of this debate. They’ve spent time and money: in the form of licensing agreements and staff training and marketing, to promote MSC-certified seafood products. They’ve counted on the MSC label as part of their “corporate social and environmental responsibility” portfolio. They are trying to do the right thing, which includes trying to make our lives (their customers) easier.
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The outcomes of the eco-label debate: Will the MSC just lose one client (albeit, its biggest –wild Alaskan salmon?). Will a better eco-label come along that satisfies buyers? Will it be easier or more difficult to achieve? A watered-down label of lesser meaning? Or surprisingly more robust? Less expensive? It was inevitable that other labels would come along to compete with the MSC — why not? A healthy debate should surround what is “the best environmental choice in seafood.”
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Meanwhile, this issue still does not stick with consumers as much as those in the environmental community nor the seafood industry would like. People still want someone to tell her/him that the product doesn’t trash the environment. Because we (the general public) really don’t want to become experts on this subject. When we have a bunch of competing labels on the market, whether their logo is cast in green or blue or beige, shaped like a tree or a fish or an amoeba, people will tune out, or they’ll buy the product that they perceive is the healthiest and that is, for sure, less expensive.
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Meanwhile, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program is continuing its due diligence by comparing the various seafood eco-labeling schemes as they make their best (green), okay (yellow), and worse (red) choices recommendations. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all very eager to see the outcome of their study! We all know this is about trust. Who can you trust?
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And, maybe someday, there will be NO need for eco-labels at all, because everything will be environmentally sustainable (and socially, too, with no human rights violations!). Instead, all do-gooding companies across the planet will agree on a code of conduct, and as a powerful consortium, they will paste black labels on those nasty products we should all avoid. Until then…
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On a lighter note, we will be celebrating our 8th annual “Poisson d’Avril” (April Fish Day) this year. It’s our celebration of fish and mischief. We’ll be highlighting this and other crucial ocean/seafood sustainability issues in the flesh in New York at the Culinary Institute of America and in California with the fun-loving Cooks Confab, as well as online here and at our Facebook page.

Patti

San Diego ahoy! Passionfish’ers are expert panelists at the Western Foodservice Show this month

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P’fishers, if you’re in SoCal later this month, be sure to check out the Western Foodservice & Hospitality Expo to be held August 30-September 1 at the San Diego Convention Center. In particular, attend the Sunday, August 30, presentation from 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. on sustainability issues.
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Our Co-Founder & Director of Seafood Education Andrew Spurgin and our Director of Culinary Education Gerard Viverito will provide their take on this complex subject — and what wholesalers and retailers can do to better understand and embrace “seafood sustainability” in all of its dimensions in order to make educated decisions about sourcing high-quality, nutritious seafood while minimizing adverse environmental impact. How’s that for a goal within a 90-minute session?!
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As the show tagline says, “Gain a Fresh Perspective.” Hope to see you there ~ oh, and look for an update from our P’fish Team following the Expo.

Alice Waters interviewed on 60 Minutes

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P’fish’ers,
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Did you catch this past Sunday’s “60 Minutes”? In a segment first aired in March, reporter Leslie Stahl interviewed Alice Waters about having a connection to and relationship with our food. I believe in the philosophy of the Slow Food Movement and champion the amazing work Ms. Waters has accomplished and what she stands for — delicious food that we grow ourselves or from people we know and from companies we trust. Even more moving is her promotion of edible school yards and landscapes!
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But, I wonder how her message will be received by a national audience that watched Ms. Waters poach two eggs in her personal kitchen hearth. Nice work, if you can get it! (I freely admit that I love~and covet~her kitchen…and her giant garden. I have a tiny patio garden with budding herbs and veggies).
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My worry about how sustainability is often presented by the media is that it can come across as elitist. This important topic — one that is vital to our individual and global well-being — is too easily dismissible as unattainable. Who wouldn’t want the freshest, most flavorful, most nutritious foods? Yet how many of us have the free time and spare cash needed to poach free-range eggs over a wood fire for breakfast? The chasm between the haves and have nots represents a huge hurdle for mainstream America. I recognize we’re making great strides around the world with the help of retailers like Walmart. Still, I wonder, how do we popularize sustainability using star power but in a way that’s affordable and accessible for everyone?
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What do you think? How can “sustainable seafood” avoid being labelled a luxury and instead become widespread?? We need sustenance from the sea, whether wild or farmed or both.
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And quite honestly, I know, understand and have experienced how media reports (print, broadcast, etc) are edited for impact. Ms. Waters is a leader, the way indigenous peoples were the world over, quite honestly, with their stewardship of the land. She deserves a lot of credit for spending her entire life trying to get people in touch with the earth and the food we put into our mouths.
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Her quote on the show about how people may otherwise spend money on Nike shoes– well, Birkenstocks cost as much. So, I think this is all much ado about the wrong subject. At essence, the subject is sustaining our planet and the creatures that share our planet, enhancing ours’ and their well-being, and enjoying a certain quality of life. And I mean “enhancing our well-being” to mean improving the nutrition, food access, and economics of the poor, TOO. That point is way too often left out of sustainability discussions.

New York Times Blog: the Seafood Eater’s Conundrum

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P’fish’ers, check out yesterday’s blog in the New York Times about the confusion surrounding seafood consumption. I appreciate the contributors’ opinions and wish they had been given more space to more fully express their thoughts and expertise. I like what Ray Hilborn says about looking for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified seafood…and the problem thus far, that it’s hard to find. Let’s hope the MSC’s work grows and that its label gains recognition. We also look forward to farmed seafood that is certified as “sustainable.”
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Let’s not forget that the planet’s ocean resources are meant to sustain life — the plant and animal life both within the ocean as well as all of the land-dwelling creatures including us hungry humans. We ALL depend upon a vibrant, life-sustaining ocean.
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I made a comment in response to the blog (it’s #129 on a growing list). Click here if you want to check it out…or it’s written out below, having fixed my little typos.
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The NY Times blog is a follow-up to an article posted yesterday by food writer, seafood lover and fellow confused consumer Mark Bittman. And, Mark, we feel your pain.
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Here’s my response to the “conundrum” blog:
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This opinion piece has sparked a lot of dialogue — as well as contradictory viewpoints and conflicting information. I don’t think the article as presented could come close to the complexity of what is “sustainable seafood.” The contributors were given little space to write, and the piece doesn’t cover all-important considerations such as seasonality, provenance, quality, taste, and price.
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The concept of ’sustainability’ needs to take into account economic, social, and ecological factors. If not, the concept will never gain acceptance. That’s why people are getting confused about (or simply disregard, as depicted above by various comments) the many recommendations one is supposed to follow. Meanwhile, the recommendations vary wildly and are coming from all angles: from the government, seafood companies, and environmental groups. None of these entities are 100% on the same page — and even within sectors — there is vast disagreement. So those of us who want to eat seafood are stuck between a rockfish and a hard place.
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Our nonprofit, Passionfish, is run by volunteers who have spent the past decade trying to sort out this “conundrum.” Still, it’s as if the issue has not necessarily gained much clarity for consumers.
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We hear that almost all the fish are gone. But, we hear we can still eat some of them. So, we look at all of the data from the news, our doctors, our grocery stores, our iPhones and cause-related mailing lists. We hear, for the most part (as it’s filtered through these sources) that “aquaculture is BAD”; but, at the same time, we hear about mercury, contaminant, etc. problems in the wild fish.
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We also witness that wild fish are expensive. That farmed seafood is more affordable. We hear that seafood is still the healthiest source of animal protein to eat, that it’s a “lean” source of protein, and that it contains heart-and-brain-healthy Omega 3s (essential fatty acids). These are the thoughts passing through our minds as we shop for seafood, for our meat choices for the week.
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I believe the Marine Stewardship Council, as mentioned by Ray Hilborn, is an organization we should champion. It’s true that they have so far certified only a fraction of the wild seafood products in the marketplace.
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But, the MSC is making great progress. We should support their work and hope their label gains acceptance and recognition.
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We also need a trusted certifier for sustainably raised farmed seafood products. Why do we need these certifiers? Sadly, it’s because people do not trust the government recommendations and regulations — even though, as mentioned in the posts above, the United States has among the toughest regulations. Truth is, people do not trust any single source of recommendations, not the business/seafood industry alone, not environmental groups alone, and not our government. Oh, and we don’t trust the media, either.
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Collaboration between and among government agencies, scientists, seafood companies, fishing and aquaculture practitioners, and environmental groups MUST occur for people to buy into or trust a claim of sustainability. Let’s not forget the critical input by nutritionists and economists — it’s a fact that people make their food choices based on three primary criteria: price, taste, and quality. Sustainability as a word or concept means little to most people.
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A note about the wild vs farmed issue: The rich will be able to eat wild-caught seafood (and farmed seafood called “artisan-raised”). The poor and so-called “middle class” in our country and around the world will not. If the dire predictions are true about the demise of the ocean’s wild species, wild fish will be coveted and savored by the rich as a delicacy, the way caviar is marketed (and, so, wild salmon). The rest of us will eat cake.
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To me, that’s a tragedy. The world’s ocean resources are not just for the rich to enjoy. They are meant to sustain life.