Yesterday I visited the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in Portland, Maine to learn more about their sustainable seafood program and specifically the GMRI seafood branding program. Stay tuned for more on that program in the coming weeks, but today I wanted to touch on the somewhat more time-sensitive GMRI Out of the Blue initiative and, specifically, Gulf of Maine-harvested redfish.
The Out of the Blue program seeks to raise awareness amongst consumers of lesser-known Gulf of Maine-harvested seafood, and yesterday they kicked off a 10-day celebration of a species unfamiliar to many seafood consumers: Sebastes fasciatus (aka redfish). Out of the Blue’s objective is to develop markets for underutilized and under-appreciated seafood species harvested in the Gulf of Maine. Using criteria, such as ex-vessel price, percent of total allowable catch harvested, variance in foreign market values, and existing management, Out of the Blue’s team of GMRI staff, fishermen and local chefs and other food service providers selects species that, with some good PR, could become–at least regionally–the next big thing.
Unlike some other species that have become overnight sensations thanks largely to industry-driven marketing campaigns–think orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) or Chilean sea bass (Dissostichus eleginoides), for example–Out of the Blue species are species that are currently being harvested at well below what the stock can withstand in terms of fishing pressure. S. fasciatus, for example, is a species that was used more for lobster bait than seafood in 2010, when only 22% of the total allowable catch was harvested. In short, it has been identified by the Out of the Blue team as an “underutilized and under-appreciated” species that, if more widely adopted as a food fish, could take needed pressure of some popular food fish stocks that are desperately in need of recovery.
While S. fasciatus may be better known as lobster bait to some, baiting a lobster trap will be the furthest thing from the consumer’s mind when he or she eats redfish at award-winning Fore Street in Portland (288 Fore Street) this week or at any of the other 2013 Out of the Blue participating restaurants (a full list can be seen here). For those dining at home, GMRI Sustainable Seafood Project Coordinator Sam Grimley suggests a “Spicy Redfish Tacos” recipe.
S. fasciatus, which also goes by the common names Acadian redfish and ocean perch, is a fish belonging to a family of fishes frequently referred to as rockfishes, rockcods or thornyheads. Despite some of its common names, it is not closely related to the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), a species about which there is considerable concern at present. The family name Sebastidae originates from the Greek “sebastes,” meaning venerable, august or admirable. S. fasciatus is distributed throughout the North Atlantic from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to shelf waters of Nova Scotia and off both Iceland and western Greenland. Slow growing, it is a long-lived species with an estimated lifespan of 30-50 years. Adult fish can reach 30 cm in length (or just around a foot).
S. fasciatus is one of three so-called redfishes common in the northwest Atlantic. A couple weeks ago, I mentioned about one of the other two so-called redfishes from the north Atlantic, the closely-related Sebastes norvegicus (formerly Sebastes marinus). S. norvegicus–commonly called the golden redfish, rosefish, bream or Norway haddock–is currently up for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) assessment in Iceland, and if the fishery is certified, it will become the first redfish fishery certified by MSC. The other common redfish species in the North Atlantic is S. mentella (the beaked redfish).
While the species is considered underutilized and under-appreciated as a food fish in the Gulf of Maine, S. fasciatus is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. The outdated listing results from the fact the species was overfished during the 1940s and 1950s, when, according to the GMRI’s fact card for redfish, it was “an important protein source for the United States military.” Given the species’ low fecundity, if not properly managed, it is a species susceptible to overfishing.
Today’s S. fasciatus fishery in the Gulf of Maine is considered a sustainable fishery that is being responsibly harvested. This assessment is not only because it is currently underutilized as mentioned above, but also because it is well-managed and the gear typically employed to harvest it yields less bycatch of juvenile redfish and non-targeted species.
Other species that will be promoted through GMRI’s Out of the Blue program this summer will be mackerel, dogfish, whiting, and pollock.