Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This week the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association and CAFC along with the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance met with a group from Healthcare Without Harm. The group was comprised of foodservice managers, chefs etc., from several area hospitals. The topic of the day was how hospitals can improve their seafood purchasing decisions to improve patient health, reduce the environmental impact of their purchases and if possible support the communities in which they live and work. Sounds a lot like why people join a CSF!

I was not able to attend the entire presentation as we were having another one of our famous Seafood Throwdowns at the Gloucester Sidewalk Days Festival. (Check out some video here of local Gloucester impresario Joey Ciamartaro – owner/operator of - talking about the virtues of Dogfish aka Cape Shark.) However the parts I was able to attend I was thoroughly impressed by the attendees ambitions to increase local seafood in their hospital menus. There were some tough questions asked, and truthfully, these are also some of the main questions we get at CAFC from members as well as critics.

One of the presenters was Vito Giacalone, a Gloucester Fisherman as well as the owner of the Boston Seafood Display Auction in Gloucester where CAFC fish is landed. One of the hospital administrators asked how most of the fish in Gloucester were caught. Vito said that most of the boats are draggers with a small percentage of net boats. Her follow up question was, “We hear all the time that draggers are bad for the environment and are listed on the seafood buyer’s guides as an ‘avoid’ fishing practice. How can we buy seafood from draggers if that is the case?”

Vito’s response was that people have been dragging the same local waters for fifty plus years. In that time, they are finding the fish in the exact same spots that his father caught fish forty years ago. There are no secret spots, the fish tend to go to the same places and the fishermen go to the same places. If they were destroying the habitat how and why are the fish populations coming back? Not only that, but most of the draggers are small day boats that use technology to stay just off the bottom.

Now, keep that anecdote in mind. The next story was told by one of the folks from Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington, VT who is at the forefront of the local and healthy in hospitals movement. They did a survey of all the kinds of seafood they could serve and used several criteria including the seafood buyer’s guidelines. One of the seafoods they came across that is recommended highly by most of the seafood buyers guides is Alaska Pollock.

But Fletcher Allen dug a bit deeper than the seafood cards and found out that not only is Alaska Pollock on of the most industrialized fleets in the world, but they use huge drag nets to catch the Pollock. Once the Pollock is caught and flash frozen, it is shipped to China for processing then shipped back to the US for sale. Yet according to some seafood buyer guides, Alaska trawl caught Pollock is more sustainable than Atlantic trawl caught Cod.As with most purchase decisions these days the confrontation for the conscientious buyer is between a cheap product with an unknown social and environmental cost .vs a more costly product that has social and environmental integrity. I don’t know about you, but I know I feel a lot better getting my fish from a small local producer with a known social and environmental footprint than from a far-flung factory operation where the real social and environmental costs are buried in a huge carbon footprint and a factory in China.

And don’t even get me started on the difference in the taste…

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