Thursday, October 25, 2012

From the trawl to the table

What does it take to get fish from the trawl net to the dinner table? Hint: a whole lot more than simple transit logistics these days.

The Trawl to Table event held Oct. 23rd at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, N.H. offered the chance for chefs, restaurant owners, fishermen and scientists to interact with one another while learning about commercial fishing, the transport of seafood, and the seafood needs of increasingly discerning marketplaces.

The day-long forum, hosted by N.H. Sea Grant and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), included interactive fishing gear displays, presentations and discussions on quality handling, sustainability and seafood market access.

Using innovative fishing gear to maintain healthy fish stocks

Steve Eayrs, research scientist at GMRI, spoke first about methods to improve the selectivity of trawl and gill nets. After conducting experiments using different sizes of mesh in the trawl codends, Eayrs found that 6.5” diamond-shaped mesh allowed 2/3 of the fish caught to escape—most notably, the smaller species that might not have reproduced yet. 

Taking into account the differences in swimming behavior among species, gillnets were retrofitted with panels on the bottom made of very large mesh to allow bottom-swimming cod to pass through while capturing pollock further up in the water column. In light of new regulations that will significantly decrease the cod quota, this type of gear could prove quite useful to improve selectivity. 

Offsetting some costs by improving fuel consumption: better for the environment, better for the bottom line.

Erik Chapman, commercial fisheries specialist for N.H. Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension, discussed the Green-Fit Project, an effort to retrofit fishing vessels with devices designed to decrease the boat’s fuel consumption. Chapman worked closely with commercial fishermen David Goethel (F/V Ellen Diane, Hampton, N.H.) and Jim Ford (F/V Lisa Anne II, Newburyport, Mass.) to determine what devices and systems might help offset some of their fuel costs.

Based on their experiments, switching to LED deck lighting (that uses fuel from the vessel’s generator to run) required an initial investment of $6,000 in Ford’s vessel, but the return on that investment came within two years of installation, Chapman said. Extrapolated out to the average lifespan of LED lights — 11 years — the cost savings would reach approximately $30,000. 

Making sure the seafood remains high quality from trawl to point of sale

Ken La Valley, associate director for N.H. Sea Grant, offered some simple tips to ensure seafood quality. The bottom line: temperature is the biggest factor affecting the freshness of the seafood. The temperature needs to be between 32-38 degrees F from trawl to table to slow the growth of microorganisms that will spoil the seafood more quickly.

Fishermen can keep their fish cold by gutting the fish as quickly as possible and then running cold seawater over them to cool the flesh as quickly as possible. They should layer the fish in plastic totes like a lasagna: fish, ice, fish, ice, and make sure the totes have holes in them for proper drainage. 

New innovations, including a carbon dioxide pad used to preserve seafood longer in packaging and an ozone generator used to sterilize the boat deck could be useful tools for food service industry members and fishermen, La Valley added.

Learning what the gear actually looks like

GMRI research scientist Adam Baukus and David Goethel used full-sized gillnets, codend and a scaled-down trawl net to demonstrate how the gear works.

Getting the food service perspective

Many chefs, restaurant owners and wholesale/retail operators understand the importance of preserving the fishing culture in New England — particularly the small boat fleets that are vital to coastal communities, said Jared Auerbach from Red’s Best Network. Red’s Best is trying to help facilitate transactions between fishermen and buyers that includes traceability and transparency. By telling the story behind the seafood and providing information about the fisherman, there is value added to the product, he said.

Rich Pettigrew from Seaport Fish in Rye, N.H. said consumers want more information about the products to make sure they’re choosing seafood that supports good fishing practices. The N.H. Fresh and Local seafood brand is a good choice for consumers who want that local seafood connection. He added that the website lists the availability of different New England fish species throughout the year so consumers know when a fish is “in season.”

Chefs, restaurant owners and wholesale/retail operations have the opportunity to educate the public about seafood choices, said Mollie Sanders from Maine Shellfish Company. By offering seafood that is harvested locally and offered seasonally rather than year-round, chefs have the ability to lead by example by offering menu choices that are flexible and based on what’s fresh and available at that time.  

Concerning sustainability and carbon footprints

The term “sustainability” is a hot topic right now. Consumers want to do the right thing and purchase seafood that is harvested in a manner that ensures healthy future populations of the species. But many consumers fail to consider another aspect of sustainability: the carbon footprint of shipping food from far away — sometimes as far as halfway around the world. And some packaging can be misleading, said Evan Mallet, chef at the Black Trumpet restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H. Squid harvested in New England might be sent to China for packaging and then sent back to New England for market distribution because it’s cheaper to package it that way. Other audience members noted that sustainability should take place at every step in the process — from harvest to processing, packaging and sales, making sure to consider the fuel costs associated with everything consumers eat. 

The day provided an important opportunity for fishermen and chefs to learn from each other about their very different and uniquely challenging professions. As consumers and chefs become more educated about seafood sourcing and sustainability, and as fishermen continue to look for ways to increase the value of their catch in the face of catch reductions, this education could translate into meaningful changes in our coastal communities. Specifically, finding ways to increase the amount of locally harvested seafood in restaurants could be a win-win-win situation—winning for fishermen and related businesses, restaurants and consumers. To learn more about where you can get locally sourced seafood, please visit

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