What do you know about sustainable seafood and local sourcing?

by Maine Course

Posted on March 20, 2018

The Gulf of Maine is a giant body of water in the Atlantic Ocean that runs down to Cape Cod in Massachusetts from the southern part of Nova Scotia. The fishing industry is a major economic driver throughout the coast of Maine as well as a source of connection to community members.

Are you aware of the benefits that come from buying and eating local seafood? The advantages not only help the state of Maine but can also help you! I was able to discuss this topic further with Kyle Foley, the Sustainable Seafood Program Manager at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. Kyle’s work focuses on the Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested® seafood program where she works with processors, distributors, institutions, restaurants, and other stakeholders within the supply chain up and down the coast of Maine. The Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested label means two things: 1.) Ensuring seafood is traceable back to the region of the Gulf of Maine, and 2.) assessing each species on certain criteria focused on responsible harvest. To help understand this more, I asked some important questions that Kyle is well educated on. 

Why should we care about eating seafood? 

Today, the health benefits of consuming seafood remain true. The fat content in seafood is so much lower than other sources of animal protein resulting in less unhealthy calories as well. This makes seafood a great option for individuals who prefer a lighter diet still rich in flavor and beneficial fats. In addition to the protein, some seafood is also abundant in omega-3’s, which is a fatty acid that helps develop good eyesight, fight inflammation and boost brain function. Seafood is also great for maintaining a healthy cholesterol and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Economic Benefits 

Beyond seafood benefiting one’s personal health, it also has a positive impact on the economy of a community. The seafood industry is a massive, global industry, and the Gulf of Maine region is relatively small in the global picture. By purchasing local seafood, a consumer is helping the local fishermen maintain their careers and hold the ability to offer citizens local, fresh seafood. When spending money on local businesses and products, the money will stay in the community which will eventually circulate and help other businesses as well. The U.S. imports 91% of the seafood that we eat. As Kyle said, “Consumers can help fishermen from our region continue to make a living by choosing local seafood.” 

Buying Local Matters 

Many bountiful and responsibly harvested fish species from the Gulf of Maine are not harvested, primarily because we, the consumers, are not asking for them. According to Kyle, “fishermen get paid so little for these fish, they often can’t afford to pay the expenses for a fishing trip to harvest them. Eating a broader range of the seafood available in the Gulf of Maine’s waters allows fishermen to harvest what’s currently abundant, which can shift over time”. While speaking with Kyle she mentioned the global marketplace is competitive and by choosing more locally sourced foods we will help fishermen. Kyle explained that we have some of the strictest fisheries management in the world, and a healthy abundance of seafood. Because of our strict fisheries management, as well as food safety and labor laws, there are a lot of factors that make the cost of doing business high for local fishermen, so it is important to consider how continuing to buy from foreign markets, we are impacting the future of the Gulf of Maine. 

What Should We Look For? 

There is an abundance of underutilized fish found in the Gulf of Maine. In other words, many plentiful fish species are not caught primarily because they are less familiar to consumers, giving less incentive for fishermen to go out and catch the fish. According to Kyle, “Species like Acadian redfish, Atlantic pollock, and Atlantic Cape shark are all underloved species from this region – their fillets are white and vary in flakiness, and they work just as well as more traditional fish in dishes like fish tacos, fish chowder, or simply baked.” These species have been proven to be unfamiliar to many college students in particular, as discovered with recent survey results done by a group of students at USM: out of about 240 surveys, more than 50% of students would eat tuna, salmon or shrimp while less than 8% mentioned they would eat dogfish, pollock or redfish. The results indicate a clear distinction between the most commonly found seafood and the underutilized fish. By incorporating more of the underloved fish into our diets, we can improve the living of the fishermen as well as our economy! I hope to see progress continue to raise awareness of underutilized fish. If we choose to purchase these species more, it will have a positive impact on fishing businesses and the range of options available to them. 

After learning more about the sustainability of the Gulf of Maine, Kyle helped me get a better grasp on what kinds of steps can be taken to help local seafood become more popular. This includes creating a consumer demand that is large enough for fishermen to actually go out and catch the fish. GMRI has also partnered with several restaurants in the area to promote Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested seafood, giving people more of an opportunity to try local seafood!

In addition to this, Sodexo has made a public commitment that 100% of the fresh white fish served in any of their Maine institutions will be Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested by 2020. Currently, Sodexo is well ahead of this goal at 71% toward their goal in shifting to local seafood sourcing all around the state and on our campus. 

GMRI is excited about the unique partnership we have developed with Sodexo around local seafood. Sodexo is doing their part and now we as students can do ours! This is our chance to ask more questions to any employee in the seafood or food industry and to motivate our peers to obtain a better understanding of local seafood. Try to branch out and eat a variety of local seafood, eat it with more regularity and consider the positive impacts! Eating and buying seafood has so many benefits and should be maintained throughout our state and beyond!

Article By: Tiia Kand, University of Southern Maine Student & Maine Course Intern