Thursday, March 19, 2009

Boston Seafood Show part 3: the answers

This is my last post about Boston's International Seafood show 2009. Remember the list of questions we put together before the show? I had good luck with more specific questions (oysters, previously frozen fish, HACCP regulations). The more fuzzy questions about sustainability and aquaculture practices were tricky. I picked up tidbits of information, but nothing cohesive. Here is what I learned on different topics:


Q: Is mercury an issue for oysters and is there a limit on how much a person should eat?
A: Oysters are small and don't eat other fish, so mercury is not an issue for them.

Q:Are there any other health issues like parasites because you eat them raw?
A: Parasites don't seem to be an issue, but oysters from warm coastal areas like the Gulf of Mexico could potentially be contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus bacteria during the warmer months. This doesn't seem to be an issue for New England oysters.

Q: How long are oysters good for after they have been taken out of the water and what is the best way to keep them once they are out?
A: Oysters can keep for a couple of weeks (potentially as long as a month, but you don't want to risk it) if refrigerated in a well ventilated box. Make sure they can breathe.

Previously Frozen Fish

Q: What are the recent advances in freezing technologies?
O2 seems to do a better job than CO2 in preserving the color of flash frozen fish. I tried an O2 treated big-eye tuna and it was very good.

A: Is there such a thing as lean previously frozen fish that tastes good?
Q: In theory, there is. Flash freezing should keep the integrity of the fish and prevent the moisture loss. But none of the lean previously frozen fish that I tried at the show was particularly inspiring. Most of it was dry, mushy, or both.

Talking to some of the companies that sell frozen fish shed some light on this issue. Much of the frozen fish is frozen whole at sea, then shipped to China, where it's defrosted and filleted (because it's cheaper to fillet in China), then refrozen and shipped to the US. I bet they are even marketing it as "frozen at sea."

To prevent lean fish from losing moisture, they should be flash frozen ONCE and kept at that state until they are ready to be thawed and used. That's easier said than done. Your home freezer definitely doesn't maintain low enough temperature (super freezers are at -70F, while your home freezer is around 5F). I highly doubt that supermarkets have super freezers either (they are very expensive). According to Maguro International, the company whose flash frozen tuna I liked, their product will keep in a regular freezer for 7-10 days. I doubt any stores that sell previously frozen fish and market it as "flash frozen" are that careful with keeping that fish in perfect conditions. To make a long story short... I still don't believe there is such a thing as lean previously frozen fish that is available for retail and whose texture is as good as fresh.

Kampachi (availability and price)

Q: How can sustainably raised and terribly delicious kampachi become more affordable and accessible to home cooks?
A: Kona Blue, the company that farm-raises kampachi in Hawaii, is planning a farm in Mexico, which will make transportation to mainland US much easier and cheaper.

Freezing fish for serving raw

Q: How much of the seafood served raw in US is previously frozen?
A: Most of the fin fish is previously frozen, but as it turns out it's to keep the prices down, not because of HACCP regulations.

Q: How do people in the industry deal with the HACCP regulation that seafood intended for raw consumption needs to be previously frozen? Is there some seafood that doesn't?
A: As it turns out, seafood that doesn't have a high risk of containing parasites doesn't need to be previously frozen. This includes tuna and all farm-raised fish that are fed pellet feed.


Q: What are the most up to date sources for finding out which fish are endangered and which ones aren't?
A: Turns out I wasn't asking the right question. Fishing for endangered fish (like Atlantic salmon) is forbidden, at least in the US. I meant to be asking about over-fished fish. Fish Watch is a good site for the fish caught in the US.

Q: What does MSC certification involve?
A: MSC stands for Marine Stewardship Council. It's a global organization that certifies wild fish from all over the world. They make recommendations to the fisheries on how to fish sustainably. If the fishery implements their recommendations, they can go through the certification process (fisheries have to pay for this). This reminded me a bit of "certified organic." It's hard for me to figure out whether this certification really makes a difference in improving the health of the species or whether it's more of a PR campaign. I know there are a lot of small local farms that can't afford to become certified organic. I wonder if that's the case for small fishing operations. But I guess that MSC certification does help big fisheries be more environmentally conscious.

Difficult questions and fuzzy answers

Q: Which farms are feeding fish (rather than grain) to their farmed fish?
A: Every farm I talked to at the show was feeding the fish pellet food. Of course, I probably didn't talk to every farm, but pellet food seems to be more popular.

Q: What are the recent advances in the field of aquaculture? Which farms have more environmentally friendly practices?
A: This was a hard one. There was a lot of info about how to market your fish as sustainable, but not a lot of data on aquaculture practices and their impact on the environment.

Q: I'd like to learn more about Individual transferable quotas (ITQs), and other economic devices to control overfishing.
A: John Ward from NOAA seemed to have a good opinion of ITQs and mentioned that they've been very successful in New Zealand, Iceland, and on the west coast of the US for sable and halibut. I didn't get a chance to find out how ITQs are distributed to fishermen in the first place, so I sent John an e-mail with that question. Still waiting to hear back.

Q: How is the relationship between fishermen and fisheries management doing in the current economy? Is the trust between the two groups better or worse than in previous years?
A: No luck with this question. Sorry Jessica.

Q: What are the most up to date sources for finding out the amount of mercury in different fish?
A: Didn't get around to asking this, but here is the FDA site I usually use.


Pam said...

Thanks for getting us those answers, Helen!


Anonymous said...

Great responses. You were a busy person at that Show.

Dave Jones said...

The answers are great!