Earlier this week we posted on white hake- a species of fish that has proven popular on Turner’s menus and at the market. Aside from the flavor and versatility of this fish, it also has value as an underutilized species.
For a variety of reasons including historical trends, marketing, and tradition, certain species of fish have become staples while others have faded into the background, unknown to the common consumer. Throughout history public demand for popular species have placed undue pressure on these key stocks, disrupting ecosystem balances and depleting fish stocks. While it’s easy to point fingers and place blame with fishermen or regulators for failing to protect our oceans, consumer trends are also part of the bigger picture when it comes to striking a balance and properly managing our fisheries. In this light, it is important to identify underutilized species of fish that are caught locally and can serve as alternatives to some of the more popular fish species harvested in our waters.
Since 1969, the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association have been campaigning and advocating for greater use of many underutilized species caught locally including hake, pollock and red fish. Aside from the benefit of removing fishing pressure off key stocks, the GFWA has worked tirelessly to expose the public to some of the lesser known species of the northwest Atlantic in order to get fishermen a fair price for their catch. Most of these fish species bring such low prices at the docks that the incentive to fish for them among fishermen is low. However, as regulations are becoming increasingly restrictive and the public becomes more aware of making better food choices, these prices could increase enough to make it worthwhile for fishermen to target fish that have historically been miscategorized as “junk fish.” Marketing these species has come effortlessly to members of the GFWA, many of whom grew up in Sicilian American fishing families where first-rate cooking makes anything drawn from the sea taste impeccable. Many of the recipes in the GFWA’s A Taste of Gloucester and the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Cookbook highlight the variety of dishes that can be made with underutilized species.
As many are aware, Turner’s partners with the GFWA on the community supported fishery program Cape Ann Fresh Catch. Turner’s processing plant in Gloucester sources the fish for this successful and innovative program, which has far reaching environmental and economic benefits. One of the main goals of this community based program is to continue the GFWA’s mission to popularize the use of underutilized species by exposing program sharemembers to species of fish that are not normally found at market.
A similar program of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute seeks to inform and educate the public on underutilized species from our local waters. The program, called “Out of the Blue,” engages fishermen, restaurants, food service providers and members of the public in order to create new dialogues on the usefulness and benefits of seeking alternatives to historically popular and currently strained fish stocks.
So next time you find yourself at a local seafood restaurant or fish market, take a moment to consider trying something new in the name of supporting the local fleet and balancing impacts on our local ecosystems.