Does Legal Seafood's Blacklisted Fish Dinner Offer Reel Truth or Mere Press Bait?

Looking for information about the sustainability of the fish on your dinner plate? Chances are, you'll seek guidance from a resource like the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide. But Legal Seafood CEO Roger Berkowitz doesn't believe that the organization's list of overfished species is accurate, which is why, he says, he's hosting a $115-per-plate dinner featuring blacklisted seafood.

The dinner idea started innocently enough, Berkowitz tells FastCompany. The Culinary Guild of New England approached him about hosting a dinner where he could discuss the seafood being served. He thought it might be an opportune time to talk about his feelings about seafood on Monterey's "avoid" list of fish that are "caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment," according to the organization.

And so the idea for the blacklisted fish dinner was born. The menu for the dinner, which is set to take place in Boston later this month, will feature black tiger shrimp, cod cheeks, and prosciutto-wrapped hake--all species that are condemned by Monterey.

The problem with the Monterey list, Berkowitz explains, is that it relies on flawed science. "Seafood assessments from the National Marine Fisheries and NOAA are done with trawlers, with broken pieces of equipment not quite giving accurate assessments. That's what was written into legislation. There is almost draconian legislation in place that limits what can be caught, and it has forced alot of boats out of business," he explains. Berkowitz believes that assessments of fish stock should be done using sonar technology, which he claims is much more accurate.

The dinner is undoubtedly a marketing ploy for Legal Seafood, but Berkowitz says that improving seafood legislation is one of his passions. "I continue to testify at National Marine Fishery meetings," he says. "My mission is to get accurate science in front of people. Then let debates begin."

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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2 Comments

  • Meredith

    Paul-- The irony of your statement is how much influence the groups who you'd probably think of as un-vested interests actually have over fisheries management. And why is there always a presumption that those who profit from the wild-caught seafood industry would destroy the resource for their own economic gain? It's such a baffling fallacy given that their very livelihood is dependent on the long-term sustainability of a renewable but finite resource. Most fishermen are the greatest environmentalists you'll ever meet, but you probably don't know any commercial fishermen yourself.

    One of the more interesting comments I read about this dinner was in another article, where Berkowitz pointed out that fisheries management decisions are dependent not on consumer behavior but on stock assessment. If New Englanders don't eat fish from New England (which are caught in heavily regulated fisheries), those fish will certainly still be harvested, but the fishermen will be paid less for them, they'll probably travel farther in food miles to the plate where they are consumed, and no one wins. I applaud Berkowitz for being informed and active on this issue.

  • Paul Weber

    I love it when the Vested Interest Groups resist legislation on the basis of "inaccurate" science.
    There will never be 100% certainty about the outcome of a given trend... so at the end of the day it's just plain old common sense that suggests limits to any activity that might damage its environment (natural or economical, or whatever).
    Enter Harding's famous "Tragedy of the Commons".
    Any dominant player in a given market will try to maximise its benefit (be it profit or another kind of advantage) to the detriment of the other participants. Once the windfall is reaped, leave it to the others try to fix whatever damage has been done.
    Without a moral and ethical framework that places the survival of Man's evironment ahead of the economic supremacy of the corporations the game is already lost.

    Anyone else for a 2012 comet whipeout? :-)