James Beard Foundation launches Sustainable Seafood Partner program

In an effort to increase access to sustainable seafood and promote sustainable seafood options, The James Beard Foundation (JBF) announced the launch of its new Sustainable Seafood Partner program 22 March. 

The program, which dovetails with the foundation’s existing “Smart Catch” program, identifies seafood purveyors that are leaders in the industry when it comes to producing or harvesting seafood sustainably.

Four companies have already pledged support for the initiative and have become partners: Skuna Bay, of Vancouver Island, Canada; Verlasso, of Chile; Australis Barramundi, of Massachusetts U.S.A; and Blue Ocean Mariculture of Hawaii, U.S.A.

“We know that chefs and restaurants drive the national trends, and we see this as an opportunity to cultivate educational conversations between the purveyors who supply seafood and chefs who prepare it,” the foundation said in a release. “Purveyors are experts on the seafood supply chain. JBF is creating this partnership to help clarify existing customer confusion around purchasing decisions by sharing purveyor expertise on topics like sustainability in aquaculture.” 

The JBF made an earlier foray into sustainable seafood with its Smart Catch program, started in 2017. Smart Catch allows chefs to become “Smart Catch Leader Restaurants” by showing that they source the majority of their seafood from sources that the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch ranks “Yellow” or above, Smart Catch “Leaders” are recognized with the Smart Catch emblem, identifying them to customers. The new partner program will allow chefs to quickly identify seafood purveyors that meet the standards needed for the Smart Catch program, JBF said.

“This criteria includes ensuring the fish have plenty of room to grow and swim, that nutritious feed is provided, and that their farms have a positive impact on the surrounding environment,” JBF said. “Partnering with JBF provides seafood purveyors with access to chefs and other restaurant professionals, facilitating a direct conversation about what each side of the industry needs to promote sustainable seafood to drive true cultural change.” 

Partners in the program will also have to attend relevant industry events and public forums across the U.S., including JBF summits and culinary labs related to their products. 

The motivation behind the new partner program is similar to the Smart Catch program. With 90 percent of the world’s fisheries either fully fished or overfished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the foundation has made promoting sustainability a priority. 

“Preserving marine life to assure stable fishing stocks and promoting sustainably farmed options is directly aligned with JBF’s work to promote a healthy and sustainable food culture,” the foundation said. 

Katherine Miller, senior director of food policy advocacy for the JBF, said the new program will allow businesses to “share their unique expertise with chefs, and other restaurant professionals, bringing both sides of the industry together to change the way we think about the seafood on our plate.”

Todd Madsen, president of Blue Ocean Mariculture, said that they’re “thrilled to be included” in the new program. 

“We're passionate and committed to what we do, and we look forward to working with other producers, restaurants, chefs and consumers to increase availability and awareness around sustainable seafood,” he said. 

Australis Marketing Director Julie Qiu said her company also jumped at the chance to be involved with the new program, particularly due to the JBF’s reputation in the restaurant industry. She added that the new partner program will help both the industry and the chefs, by fostering conversations outside of the traditional sales-oriented venues. 

“We see them to be a key influencer within the culinary space, and really admire the types of programs and communications they do to help educate chefs,” Qiu said. “We were really excited when they reached out to us with this opportunity, because I think it gives us access to a great number of chefs that have always been a supporter of them. We can certainly learn a lot and better understand what the chefs are looking for.” 

Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.-based chef Gregory Gourdet, a 2018 James Beard Award semifinalist, said sourcing of sustainable seafood is becoming increasingly important in the restaurant world. 

“Consumers are paying closer attention to where their seafood comes from,” he said. 

Gourdet said he currently sources a lot of kanpachi from Blue Ocean, one of the program’s pilot partners. 

“I’m proud to serve Hawaiian kanpachi to my guests – not only because it's delicious, but because I know where it's from, how it's sourced and how it affects the ecosystem,” he said. 

While the first group of Sustainable Seafood Partners are all aquaculture companies, the JBF said the partner program is open to any seafood purveyor that can meet the relevant criteria. 

“JBF seeks to expand its seafood partnerships to include a cross-section of suppliers and producers representing every aspect of the sustainable seafood industry,” it said.

Photo by Fortunato M. Ramin, courtesy of the James Beard Foundation


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