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American Seafood Author Recommends Putting Underloved Fish On the Plate

Time:2017-12-19 13:19wine - Red wine life health Click:

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American Seafood Author Recommends Putting Underloved Fish On the Plate


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Barton Seaver, has dedicated his career to getting people excited about fish - first, as a chef, and later, as an author and advocate for sustainable seafood. He'd like to see us eating more of the underappreciated species of fish that are not endangered. His new book is called "American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery From Sea To Shining Sea."

Seaver got his start at the Culinary Institute of America and went on to work in several restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area. He left the restaurant industry to become a National Geographic fellow and now directs the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health's Center for Health and the Global Environment. He spoke to us from a studio in Portland, Maine, where he's living very close to the ocean and lots of fresh seafood.

Barton Seaver, welcome to FRESH AIR. So you describe your approach to seafood as not exactly a sustainable approach, more like a restorative approach. What's the difference?

BARTON SEAVER: Well, I think that we don't have a true historical understanding of what abundance in our waters is or what it was. And so when we talk about sustainability, I think we need to be talking about it in - I don't - big-thinking terms. Let's not just sustain what we have. Let's restore environments. Let's restore ecosystems and, very importantly, let's restore the economies based on them. And let's really build a new legacy in which coastal communities can thrive.

GROSS: So what are some of the fish that you think fit in the category of working toward a restorative approach? When I say fish, I mean fish to eat.

SEAVER: Well, I think across the board in the United States, we have exemplary fisheries management, and that's based on the Magnuson-Stevens Act. And so in that way, all of our fisheries are managed based on very sound science and best-in-class science, as well as input from regional and local fishers, as well as scientists and economists. That said, from an environmental standpoint, there are species like farm-raised oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, seaweed - or sea greens, they're often called - that don't just maintain quality of ecosystems, they improve them.

GROSS: So scallops are abundant? Do...

SEAVER: Both in the wild, yes, and more so ever being farmed.

GROSS: OK. So what are some of the small fish that are thriving now because of the changing fish ecosystem in the oceans?

SEAVER: Well, nationally, we are beginning to see a resurgence of menhaden, which is not considered a food fish but is - has been considered the most important fish in the ocean, in that it is dinner for just about everything bigger than it - but also, herring, sardines. We're seeing the slow rise and return of the legacy fisheries in California and other areas in the Pacific Northwest. And I think, in many ways, also, what we're seeing is a renewed interest in these species from a food standpoint. And I think that's very important - that as we see the resurgence of species, we're looking at them from a viewpoint of, what is their highest and best use and purpose for us, not just as members of the ecosystem, but part of our economies and part of our idea of what our food system is?

GROSS: Wait, you write that 95 percent of the fish that Americans eat are from 10 species. So I'm guessing that includes tuna, salmon, flounder, tilapia, halibut - what else?

SEAVER: Well, tuna, salmon and shrimp, actually, are about 90 - about 65 percent of the total consumption, right there - just those three species categories. And then beyond that, we have, basically, flaky, white-fleshed fish - catfish, pollock, cod, sometimes haddock. You have basa swai, tilapia, you know, forms of catfish. And so really, we eat tuna, shrimp, salmon, forms of flaky, white-fleshed fish and some clams. And that's kind of what Americans eat when it comes to seafood.

GROSS: Shrimp used to be, like, a delicacy when I was growing up. They were expensive. You'd eat them for, like, special occasions. How did shrimp become such a kind of a cheaper, more common food?

SEAVER: Well, that was really the advent of the farmed seafood industry, especially around shrimp and coming out of cheaper production areas in Southeast Asia as well as throughout Latin America. And so just the price of shrimp bottomed out. And also, the advent of shrimp as a aspirational food, as well, came up through sort of the early teens and '20s with its introduction as shrimp cocktail in the haute cuisine temples of New York City, and it's sort of taken off from there.

GROSS: So, you know, when it comes to farmed shrimp, I have heard warnings about the quality of the shrimp and then the quality of the environment that they're raised in. So what are your thoughts about farmed shrimp?

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