Legal Sea Foods "Promoting" Sustainability?

 

Every once in awhile something comes across the transom that sets off the BS Meter. The needle is buried in the red zone.

 

Legal Seafoods and the Culinary Guild of New England are co-hosting a dinner "of Supposed Blacklisted Fish." Their purported goal is to educate but their tone is one of derision for science.

 

This seems to be part of troubling trend of cynics who say: "you can't trust the hand-wringers" and "forget the science, give me the last plate of bluefin" (Tony, I'm talking to you.) The tone of this press release and menu strike me as a bit off target. Is the goal to discredit someone else or is it truly to educate the dining public? If the intent is to educate then why not celebrate what IS sustainable rather than take a swipe at those who work so hard in the field. Why proclaim "blacklisted fish" is okay? (PS no one is using the term "blacklisted" this is nothing more than a cynical swipe at the green/yellow/red guides that are so popular. Even Whole Foods is adopting the framework.)


I note that the Legal's website has only this when you search for Sustainability:

 

"Alaskan Wild Salmon" - good. Then, they offer two statements about their Core Values:

 

  • to be precedent-setting in our responsibility to sustainable fishing, the seafood industry, the environment, and the communities in which we do business
  • to be truthful, fair and genuine on all levels of communication

 

I called Legal's Boston to ask about a few items on their dinner menu "Tuna Sashimi" is "yellow fin ahi", they list both Atlantic salmon "Eco-certified" but could not tell me by whom. They indicate their Black Tiger shrimp comes from Vietnam and Indonesia. Why not use Maine shrimp instead? Both sustainably harvested with by-catch reduction equipment and local, I asked. Legal's staff were unsure of how their shrimp were farmed, raised or caught and weren't aware of environmental issues with shrimp. I offered to send them information and asked about the hake and cod. I was referred to Corporate.

 

My call to the Corporate buyer Bill Holler has gone un-returned. My email to the Culinary Guild as well, unreturned.

 

From the Press Release:

 

Legal Sea Foods’ Roger Berkowitz Speaks on Sustainable Seafood

President/CEO Hosts Dinner of Supposed “Blacklisted” Fish

To Educate the Public on the Truth about Sustainable Fishing Practices


WHAT: The Culinary Guild of New England and Legal Seafoods co-sponsor an educational dining event to shed light on sustainable seafood. Legal Sea Foods’ President and CEO Roger Berkowitz presents a four-course dinner, followed by a discussion on the most current information concerning sustainable seafood fishing practices.


Over the last few years, news reports on the sustainability of seafood have become more frequent, causing widespread discussion on what fish is sustainable, and therefore safe to eat. Unfortunately, this discussion is flawed by outdated scientific findings that unfairly turn the public against certain species of fish. In a direct effort to counter existing misinformation about sustainability, the menu for this event is deliberately designed to serve what is commonly believed to be outlawed or blacklisted fish. The menu includes:


Fritters
Black tiger shrimp, duck cracklings, smoked tomato, and avocado sauce
Hermann J. Wiemer Reisling, Finger Lakes, 2008

 

ED NOTE: Click here to see what the Seafood Watch folks have to say about Black Tiger Shrimp.

 

ED NOTE: One of the main issues with shrimp, primarily from Southeast Asia is the destruction of mangrove habitats that both protect the shores from natural disasters and provide a delicate, balanced ecosystem between saltwater and the shore. Read more about restaurants who have signed a pledge to stop using imported shrimp and also about the Mangroves here, Mangrove Action Project.

 

 


Cod Cheeks
Spaghetti squash, toasted pecans, melting marrow gremolata
Schiopetto Sauvignon, Collio, 2008

Prosciutto Wrapped Hake
Braised escarole, Rancho Gordo beans, blood orange marmalade
Domaine du Viking Vouvray, "Cuvée Tendre," Loire Valley, 2009

 

ED NOTE: Hake and cod both provide insights into the issues of trawling which destroys ocean habitats. While hake maybe a species "in recovery" there are alternatives which are from healthier fisheries and which are harvested in less destructive ways. Read more here.

 


Citrus Almond Cake
Yuzu semi freddo, candied kumquats
Jorge Ordoñez Moscatel Selección Especial No.1, Málaga DO, 2007


There will be an opportunity for CGNE guests to ask questions about what’s safe to eat, which species are indeed plentiful, and how to read between the lines of media reports. In addition, Sandy Block, Master of Wine, and Legal's Vice President of Beverage Operations, has chosen wines specifically to complement the menu devised by Rich Vellante, Legal's Executive Chef. Alexander Murray, Assistant Director of Beverage Strategy, will be there to present the pairings.

 


Reactions

The PR person responsible dismissed me, insinuating I'd misunderstood the presser. Many of the people to whom I forwarded it, "misunderstood" it in exactly the same way I had. Comments included "arrogant" "misguided" "if their purpose is to educate, why wouldn't they list where the seafood is from and how it's caught?"

Time Magazines's Environmental Hero Casson Trenor weighs in:

I don't understand this event.  It baffles me.  It seems like Legal Seafood is selling tiger shrimp and Atlantic cod for no other reason than to encourage seafood consumers to mistrust the work and guidance of any number of scientists, environmental organizations, and progressive fishermen and aquaculturists around the globe.  

I am trying to see this dinner as something other than unadulterated hubris on the part of a myopic businessman, but it's difficult.  Why would scientists be trying to steer people away from safe, responsibly caught fish?  It is true that outdated data is a concern -- the dynamic nature of the ocean means we're always playing catch-up -- but who is more likely to offer a precautionary and wise course of action: a scientist who remains unaffected by the vicissitudes of the seafood market, or a fishmonger who is quite clearly benefiting (in the short run) from the sale of as much fish as he can get his hands on?

 

Some publicists believe even bad publicity is good and that provocative is always a winning strategy. They have missed the mark here. Rather than establishing themselves as leaders in this complex journey, they denigrate (without specificity, I note) "outdated scientific findings." This is a disservice to all the fishermen who are trying mightily to fish in responsible ways. It is a slap in the face to conservationists and ocean activists who struggle daily to break our complacency and our addiction to environmentally unsustainable species. It is cynical at a time when we are dying for authenticity and open dialog. I believe they fail in their stated CORE VALUES quoted above.

I wish I could say I am surprised, but when I personally discussed the issue of sustainability with Rich Vellante he could not have been LESS interested in the topic. I got the thousand mile stare and barely a nod of a brush-off. Perhaps he's seen the light and is now devoted to sustainable seafood. I just don't get that from this press release. I sincerely hope I am/we are wrong and that Legal Seafood and the Culinary Guild will make some mid-course corrections and open up this dialog and educational process they purport to aim for.

 

What you can do:

 

  1. Contact Legal Seafoods Corporate buyer, Bill Holler and Roger Berk and urge them to promote sustainable seafood, not to knock science and conservation. Call: 617-530-9000
  2. Contact The Culinary Guild of New England and urge them to find a better partner to promote sustainable seafood. EMAIL: info@culinaryguild.org
  3. Tweet this, Facebook this and drop a comment here. What do you think of this approach? Is this an "truthful, fair and genuine" way to educate the public on issues of sustainability?