Aquariums: More Than Fish Tanks


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
August 12, 2008

The pursuit of sustainable seafood, wild or farmed, depends on good science. Much of the cutting-edge research in the United States is being conducted at aquariums, most notably the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its Seafood Watch program. While the MBA gears its message directly to consumers, the New England Aquarium in Boston assumes more of a consultancy role for companies looking to shore up their sustainable seafood sourcing policies. It's not as simple as a wallet card, but spreading awareness through corporate responsibility could be equally effective.

I visited the New England Aquarium on Monday for the first time since an eighth grade field trip. The National Fisheries Institute's Future Leaders Class of 2008 was brought here to connect with the beauty of the ocean's many wonderful and mysterious creatures, everything from sublime moon jellies and menacing nurse sharks to the majestic cownose rays and green turtles. Not exactly the type of stuff that shows up on cutting tables at your local distributor.

There we met with Michael Tlusty, Ph.D., director of research at the Aquarium's Edgerton Research Laboratory. Tlusty says the Aquarium's involvement with the seafood industry goes back to its 2000 partnership with Ahold USA, parent company of retail chains Giant and Stop & Shop, among others. The Aquarium assisted Ahold in establishing environmental criteria for its seafood purchasing, and is now doing the same for Darden Restaurants, parent company of Red Lobster, and Gorton's of Gloucester, Mass. Tlusty says the Aquarium's collaboration with the seafood industry--both suppliers and buyers--will grow and increased demand for sustainable programs may allow the Aquarium to add to its staff.

Chances are you have more questions about sustainable seafood than answers. Maybe consulting with experts is the best way to stay on top of ever-changing ecological and commercial landscapes. Educating corporate boardrooms about eco-friendly seafood choices should have a trickle-down effect. Wait staff and seafood counter personnel must be properly equipped with up-to-date information and be trained to relay that information to consumers.

Taking the sustainability message straight to consumers a la Seafood Watch has definitely increased awareness. A chef told me recently that some diners pull out their pocket-sized cards right in front of their menus. But companies that go the other route and develop an internal program can rely on a well-informed server or retail counter employee to spread the word to guests who might not be asking the right questions.

James Wright
Assistant Editor
SeaFood Business

P.S. Congratulations to Ryan Baldwin of Slade Gorton in Boston and Jennifer Hill Pollick of Odyssey Enterprises in Seattle for being chosen as co-presidents of the Future Leaders Class of 2008.

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