Are you prepared to save Jaws from Extinction? – A Lauren Mote Exclusive

February 26, 2009

By Lauren Mote, Poivre Media

I was mid-bite; savouring a piece of sablefish the other night at Boneta. I started to wonder… As the Ocean Wise Dine Out program comes to a close in Vancouver, I wanted to write a riveting, and compelling story about this sea-life conservation program.

The Vancouver Aquarium, arguably one of the most beautiful homegrown aquatic facilities in North America behind the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, is at the forefront of this modern conservation project to preserve marine life from the fork… well to be perfectly honest, the Vancouver Aquarium put out a statistic that the world’s seafood consumers eat close to 130 million tons a year of these delicious and beautiful creatures. In another staggering study, 90% of all large predatory fish are already gone from the waters… and if we do not change now, a recent study predicted a world-wide fishery collapse by 2048. So the attempt is not to delete consumption, more so make it efficient for water life to continue to reproduce and spawn, without the fears of extinction or floor raking – the way Mr. Burns bounced back in the Simpsons cartoon with “L’il Lisa’s Seafood Slurry” factory; Burns raked the sea floor for everything, including whales, to create an “all natural” sludge – it was perfect for animal eats, and engine coolant.

Once you read through the documentation on Ocean Wise, you start to think of all the places you have possibly encountered seafood evil – ignorant to the world around them, some chefs or individuals continue to practice a non-sustainable approach to their seafood offerings. On a fairly recent Restaurant Makeover on the Food Network, Chef Brad Long was in the kitchen of Grappa Restaurant on College St. in Toronto. The restaurant chef was offering up some of the dishes from their existing menu, and actually made a dish with Chilean seabass (which is on the endangered species list, and has been for many years). This just has to be plain ignorance. Needless to say, Chef Long freaked out.

Vancouver is really, really good at practicing sustainable fishing; and it is stated on most menus, and as I mentioned above, there is a “Dine Out” program, creating awareness for restaurant go-ers to learn more about the program, and learn more about participating restaurants. One of the programs’ biggest supporters, chefs from Goldfish Pacific Kitchen in Yaletown, cooked about 400 Thai and sake marinated sablefish, with an edamame bean and tomato ragout at the Vancouver Aquarium. Executive Chef William Tse and Sous Chef Tom Lee were happy to participate in the event, “Toast to the Coast” and educate the aquatic attendees. The local food movement in Vancouver (started by John Bishop of Bishop’s many years ago) just became second nature for chefs, restaurants, and diners, and now the same is occurring within local aquaculture. So, getting into the gritty, I had to look up some of these terms to be able to better understand how past generations were actually fishing. As of now, the most danger we see for fish and sea-life, are the missing shelters, damaged or missing spawning areas, and of course the fishing type or practice.

What are the key points to Ocean Wise, and what makes something a sustainable source? “Abundant and resilient to fishing pressures; well managed with a comprehensive management plan based on current research; harvested in a method that ensures limited bycatch on non-target and endangered species; harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats and negative interactions with other species.”

Where I once thought “longlining” didn’t sound so bad, it actually is, and is especially associated with “high bycatch” – the high percentage of seafood captured, killed, and discarded. Basically, the longlining method looks like this: a line anchored to a base, many feet below the surface, with many smaller lines and bait hooks attached to the entire length. This is a safer, more acceptable method when fishing for shellfish on the seabed, rather then dredging (raking) the same spot over and over again, which prohibits re-growth over time. In terms of unsustainable longlining, that refers to palegic longlining, which skims the surface, and directly affects larger species like mahi-mahi, tuna and swordfish. Ocean Wise is suggesting that the only sustainable fishing techniques to decrease bycatch include trolling, which is a method of attaching a baited line behind a boat, hook and line, and using pot and traps.

The positive things that aquaculture can have in a wild environment, also provides negative impact. The destruction of wetlands and habitats moves marine life closer to land, and in turn closer to pollution, disease and cause deadly outbreaks amongst animal and mammal. Gradually this affects the marine ecosystem and the food chain, where humans and sea birds, as well as larger predatory fish that rely on seafood for strength and vitality, find themselves growing weak. Sustainable farming in enclosed areas provides increased amounts of available “guilt-free” seafood, like arctic char, tilapia, sturgeon, channel catfish and rainbow trout. However sometimes, if the wrong farming choices are made, such as manmade ponds that have replaced wetlands and mangroves (trees that grow in muddy, swampy areas), this can promote growth of parasites and organisms (especially in wild areas where aquaculture is used as a primary source to provide protein to otherwise scarce areas).

Sea Choice
, another Canadian based company, works hand in hand with retail outlets to promote sustainable seafood choices, from canned tuna to farmed clams. Sea Choice provides business guidelines, as well as a chart with the best, some concern, and avoid for seafood choices. But Canada isn’t the only participant in this race to save the oceans’ livelihood. Sea Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California, is holding an event called “Cooking for Solutions” hosted by Food Network scientist & Educator of the Year, Alton Brown, and Chef of the Year and owner of The French Laundry, Thomas Keller. The event celebrates leadership and the promotion of cuisine that protects the health of the oceans and its inhabitants. Ocean Wise Australia is also in its funding and development stage which is encouraging news. Lastly, Cayman Sea Sense in the Cayman Islands aims to educate the general public about fisheries and aquaculture issues facing our oceans.

Where do we go from here? Well, this is all about awareness. As we have all learned in different situations, the only thing holding anyone back is plain old ignorance. Each person has the ability to adjust thinking, learning, and conceptualize the right things to do going forward. Support those who support Ocean Wise, and other conservation projects, and continue to educate those around you.

Imagine the world without fish.
A pretty scary thought.
Even “Jaws” is in danger.

Dan-na…dan-na.

Lauren Mote can be reached at poivremedia@gmail.com

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