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

Legal Seafood is hosting an exclusive dinner featuring items condemned by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Why?


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.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.