Saving Seafood – Turning the Dialog Around

Richard Stavis [Photo: Stavis Seafoods]

Richard Stavis [Photo: Stavis Seafoods]

This morning before the Seafood Expo North America (SENA15) opened, I blogged a commitment to seek out the positive stories regarding the seafood industry and the progress made along the path of sustainability. In my line of work, it’s easy to get overly focused on the negatives–it’s what editors like to print, and, as a science writer, the best stories often emerge where the data don’t square with the marketing. Nonetheless, I committed today to also celebrating the improvements in the seafood industry through my SENA15 blogging this year. I didn’t actually use the word celebrate, but several of the speakers in the first panel I attended this morning titled “The Changing Landscape of Sustainable Seafood” did, and I’m going to ride their coat tails for a moment.

While Chef Rick Moonen of RM Seafood in Las Vegas made a strong case for celebrating the seafood industry’s accomplishments and achievements, it was Richard Stavis, President & CEO Stavis Seafoods, who really brought the point home for me–about how changing the dialog is an important part of writing the next chapter of the seafood industry in the United States.

“What we need to keep in mind here,” Stavis said, “is that seafood is the best protein you can put into your body.” The trouble is, he continued, “we’re looking at everything that is wrong and we’re forgetting about everything that’s right [with seafood].” He cited CDC data showing there are 84,000 preventable deaths a year “due to inadequate consumption of seafood in the United States.” Given these statistics, why are people not eating more seafood.

“We’re scaring people,” Stavis said.

Why are consumers scared of seafood? First off, we hear US consumers are afraid to buy seafood for fear it will go bad before they cook it. In addition, Americans say they don’t know how to prepare it. Then there are the health concerns–both human and environmental. Insofar as human health is concerned, the data show consumers have overreacted to health advisories concerning toxins like methylmercury in seafood. Then there are the environmental health concerns. Is tuna really on the brink of destruction? Have draggers (i.e., bottom trawlers) really transformed the bottom of the ocean into a barren wasteland? Is more than 90% of our seafood consumed in the US really from places like China with questionable consumer safety standards? True or untrue, logical or not, these issues serve as real impediments for too many Americans, and the end result is that too few US consumers are consuming the only food with food in its name (i.e., seaFOOD).

Looking inward at an event like SENA, some seafood industry leaders and pundits conclude that, at least in part, it’s the industry’s own fault. Sure you walk onto the exhibit floor and are besieged by the word “sustainability,” but, what does that actually mean? Not much to some. “Instead of using short phrases like ‘I am sustainable,'” said Øistein Thorsen, also a panelist, “talk about what you do. What is it that you are selling? How was it made? Who made it? Where does it come from? When you start telling that real story,” he said, “that’s the kind of stories consumers want to see. They don’t want to see 500 signs saying sustainable, because then it means nothing.”

With topics like illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, seafood fraud and overfishing dominating much of the public dialog around seafood, the industry is often on the defensive. More often than not, it seems, the industry finds itself reacting to stories rather than creating its own narrative along the lines of what Thorsen proposed. And when the industry reacts, it too often reacts with more dialog about IUU fishing, seafood fraud, overfishing and the like. 

And so, in closing, I return to Stavis, who said:

“We’ve got to turn this dialog around. We’ve got to talk about the good things. We need to celebrate the good things–we need to talk about the path [to sustainability], we need to put things into context–but you can’t just talk about what you’re not doing right enough. You’ve got to change it.”

Stay tuned–there is much more to come from SENA15. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter at for news and observations throughout the day, and check back to http://www.GoodCatchBlog for more comprehensive coverage.

…and go eat some seafood…RIGHT NOW!


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.
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2 Responses to Saving Seafood – Turning the Dialog Around

  1. Pingback: Celebrating Previously Frozen Farmed Fish | Good Catch Blog

  2. Pingback: Celebrating Previously Frozen Farmed Fish

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