The Mercury-Laden Fish Floated for School Lunches

For quite some time, I’ve been working on a story regarding a small species of shark called dogfish. What started as a piece profiling some fish species the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) was featuring as abundant, underutilized and under-appreciated (so-called “trash fish” in some circles) became a far more in-depth piece that touches on many topics near and dear to my professional life as a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. Thanks to the fantastic editorial staff at Discover Magazine for bringing this story to life. Here’s the opening and then click through to the full story at Discover.

Blair Currier, Portland Public Schools’ local food specialist, prepares a pan of redfish at the district’s central kitchen. Photo: Ben McCanna for Discover Magazine

It’s Thursday morning at the Portland Public Schools central kitchen on Riverside Street in Portland, Maine. A crew of white-coat-clad kitchen employees is preparing locally landed Acadian redfish fillets topped with oyster cracker crumbs and seasoned with Old Bay for more than 2,000 elementary school students. This facility prepares local seafood once a month as part of the district’s commitment to the local food movement.

“We’re either doing redfish,” says Ron Adams, the director of food services, “or sometimes, we’ll get the haddock coming off Georges Bank.” Although Adams prefers the haddock, he’s pleased with the redfish, especially since it helps support beleaguered local fishermen.

Species like Acadian redfish, scup and sea robin have earned the moniker “trash fish” in commercial fishermen’s eyes because demand is so low that the price per pound makes them hardly worth landing. Some of these species are so abundant that they can interfere with harvesting money-making species, such as cod. But cod and other iconic New England seafood species are disappearing because of overfishing, and fisheries managers have drastically limited the amounts fishermen can catch. So trash fish are now getting a makeover.

Numerous campaigns by environmental groups are looking to rebrand trash fish. But some New England politicians think the process is too slow — and the markets too small — to provide the immediate assistance fishermen need. In the past year, some politicians have begun looking to federal food programs as customers for one of the most abundant and despised species: the Atlantic spiny dogfish. But proponents of serving dogfish in school lunchrooms, food kitchens, prisons and disaster shelters seem to have missed the simple fact that the mercury levels in the fish mean that serving it to these populations could be a risky move.

[Read the Full Story at]

About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
This entry was posted in Groundfishing, Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), Human Health, Legislation, Maine Fisheries, Marine Stewardship Council, Mercury, Northeast Fisheries and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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