Friday, August 31, 2012

You Think You Know Your Local Seafood?

Pier 13, Boston Fish Pier was the setting, a small seafood distribution plant called Red's Best, where I joined other local food writers to get a behind-the-scenes peek and learn more about the local seafood industry.  We all agreed it was a major eye-opener and we had a LOT to learn.  Our host was I Love Blue Sea, an innovative new enterprise helmed by "Captain" Martin Reed and designed to put consumers more readily in touch with local seafood.

Did you know that most of the "fresh" seafood you put on your dinner table is probably 3-4 weeks old and comes from halfway around the world?  Only 2% of it is even inspected by the F. D. A. Yeah.  Neither did we and we were about to learn more.

We arrived in the early evening so we actually got the chance to witness the delivery of today's catch, most of it from Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound.  It was cool to actually see the fish hauled in today and immediately packed in ice being brought in.  The sweet smell of brine filled the air, reminding me of exactly what fresh fish smells like:  clean.

The catch included, flounder, conch and scup.  Conch!  What?  Most of us thought of conch only as a warm water fish, associated with the Caribbean but, oh no, it's actually quite plentiful just off our local shores.  And quite valuable.  In the current market conch is quite popular and, according to the local fishermen we interviewed, is causing somewhat of a gold rush in the local waters with upstart fisherman joining the floating fray just to get the conch.

I'd always dreamed of visiting one of these plants after seeing the early-morning markets where local chefs will get there, sometimes pre-dawn, just to get the very best pick of last night's catch on cooking, travel and food TV shows.  It was one of the most interesting food events we'd been to all year, most agreed.

After the fish is cleaned and packaged it is marked with a QR code showing exactly where and when it was caught.  This is fairly new technology and provides the consumer with an unprecedented access to information on freshness and sustainability, a transparency that has up until now been unavailable.  Some savvy diners may even know that a few local restaurants will provide diners with the QR code which, when scanned with your smart phone, will provide one with full and accurate catch information.  In some cases, you can even see a photo of the fisherman who caught the seafood you are about to consume!  How cool is that?

Any idea what this is?  You may have seen it on local menus as "Sea Bream."  Fisherman call it "Scup" and it is a local, plentiful, very sustainable fish.  It has a firm, white flesh and sweet flavor that many say reminds them of the taste of a scallop.  Most people don't order it as they have not heard of it.  We are learning.  By enjoying this fish you are not only supporting the local fishing trade but also celebrating sustainability AND getting a great meal.

This is the tag that local fisherman will attach to today's catch to be delivered to the plant.  August 23rd was the date we visited the plant.  Can't get any fresher than that.

It was also very informative to meet local fisherman and hear about all of the challenges they face.  I mean, we knew how hard they work but had no idea how difficult it is becoming.  Still, they were happy to tell us they would not give it up.  It's in their blood.

Jared Auerbach (in the dark shirt) of Red's Best was very helpful and informative, showing us all of the species in today's catch and explaining where they were caught, how they are prepared and the distribution process.

Here's a short video I shot of Jared explaining today's catch.  I was not the only one surprised that conch is found off the Massachusetts coast.

The very next morning Captain Martin Reed appeared on Fox Business News to explain exactly how I Love Blue Sea is connecting consumers with local fisherman in a new and innovative way.  You can view the video here:  Martin Reed.

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