Wine Spectator Features Ground-Breaking Passionfish Forum on Seafood & Ocean Sustainability
October 2, 2003
A Passion for Fish Sparks New Forum on Seafood Sustainability
by Lynn Alley
Used to be you could sit down to a juicy salmon-steak dinner and think about
nothing more than which wine to pair with it. Not anymore. For diners
worried about the environment, there's yet another cause for concern on the
horizon: disappearing fish.
There is little disagreement -- whether among marine scientists, fishermen
or chefs -- that certain segments of the ocean's population have been
overfished, some to the point of near extinction. But that's where the
agreement seems to stop. Which fish are disappearing, where it's happening,
and what to do about it are all matters for debate and discussion.
That's just what went on last week at the first open forum organized by
Passionfish, a 3-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting
dialogue and education among the various parties interested in sustaining
the world's supply of seafood.
"We at Passionfish don't want to tell people what to eat and what not to
eat," said cofounder Andrew Ryland Spurgin, director of seafood education
and events. "We want to encourage consumers to ask questions. We're not
about advocacy; we're about balanced education. We want to get people
talking to one another: fishermen, scientists, environmentalists, government
regulators, restaurateurs, chefs and consumers, one and all. We want to find
some common ground amid contention."
Passionfish's first attempt to do that was last week in San Diego during the
Oceans 2003 Marine Technology and Ocean Science Conference, a gathering of
marine experts from around the world. Speaking to an audience of consumers,
students, chefs and members of the trade were representatives of the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography, the National Fisheries Institute, the American
Fishermen's Research Foundation, The Ocean Conservancy, the David and
Lucille Packard Foundation, Oldways Preservation Trust and local
"Two-thirds of the people in the U.S. eat seafood out," noted Michael
Sutton, head of the ocean conservation program at the David and Lucille
Packard Foundation in Los Altos, Calif. "That means the most important
people are the men and women in the white coats, the chefs. They are the
gatekeepers for the rest of us, and they are the people who are ultimately
going to get the message about sustainable seafood out."
Panelist Bernard Guillas, executive chef at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club
and its Marine Room restaurant, said, "We chefs, just like consumers, gather
a lot of different information, but sometimes we get conflicting messages.
We need the scientific community to give us accurate information. We need to
know the source and the vendor and where the fish is coming from."
Guillas cited the confusion surrounding the popular Chilean seabass as an
example. "First I heard it was on the endangered species list, then I heard
it was on the 'watch list' only," said Guillas, "We need to know where to
turn for accurate information."
Further, the panelists said, it's hard for buyers to tell whether the
Chilean sea bass on the market was caught by those who are attempting to
manage the fishery sustainably or those who are fishing illegally and
selling the fish using forged documentation. Any boycott of sea bass can end
up penalizing both sets of fishermen.
Sustainable fishing means much the same thing for fishermen as it does for
grapegrowers, said Cindy Taylor, a graduate student at the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography, based in San Diego. Ultimately to be
successful, the solutions must be sustainable for everyone, both
economically as well as environmentally.
Among the suggestions thrown out for discussion was one from Jeremy Jackson,
a professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He suggested, "Farmers
let their land lay fallow. Why couldn't the same principle be applied to our
Passionfish will continue "fishing for solutions and methods that work,"
said Spurgin, by sponsoring a series of shows, tastings and educational
events featuring sustainable seafood offerings and experts from across the
Perhaps one of the group's most effective tools was the sustainable seafood
feast that followed the forum. The tasting featured nine San Diego area
chefs preparing sustainably caught seafood. Their dishes -- such as Pacific
Dungeness crab-cod brandade from Tom Dowling at the Rancho Bernardo Inn,
wild Alaskan salmon tartare with lemon crème fraîche from Maryjo Testa at
Laurel, and oven-baked albacore tuna salad with bell pepper tapenade from
Pascal Vignau at Savory -- kept guests happy and enthusiastic about the
future of sustainable seafood.
*article reprinted with permission from Wine Spectator Magazine