Media watch: Il-Legal dinner?


April Forristall, assistant editor

Published on
January 20, 2011

One of the first seafood-related news stories of the New Year to catch the eye of the mainstream media garnered not only coverage but also an abundance of opinions.

The news that Legal Sea Foods, a 30-restaurant East Coast seafood chain based in Boston, is hosting a dinner in late January featuring so-called blacklisted seafood species has stirred up quite a debate in the press, the amount of which even surprised event sponsor the Culinary Guild of New England.

“We didn’t know the firestorm this dinner would generate,” Carrie Richard, the group’s president, told the Gloucester Daily Times. She said it’s “a perfect opportunity” for the group’s members to lead a deeper discussion surrounding sustainable fisheries.

In addition, the newspaper ran an editorial applauding the Legal Sea Foods CEO Roger Berkowitz for “putting a meal where his mouth is.”

“Three cheers for Roger Berkowitz,” stated the editorial. “The governmental assault on the fisheries is deadly serious business. It is sad that it is coming from a president who promised that science would take its rightful place in the making of policy. And now it’s being exaggerated by environmentalists who don’t care about facts, only about serving up their own agenda. But humor can be a serious weapon in a serious battle.”

The Gloucester Daily Times also reported on the Chefs Collaborative’s support of the dinner. “Thank you for sparking a dialogue regarding possible exceptions to ‘blacklisted’ seafood,” said the group.

An editorial in the Salem News called Berkowitz courageous: “Eco-labelers and their allies at the top of federal fishery bureaucracy seek to exaggerate the condition of fish stocks, and paint those who catch them as enemies of the environment. By their standards, just about every kind of organized cultivation, from farming to fishing, is bad,” read the editorial. “Humor can be an effective weapon in the serious battle over the health of the region’s fishery. Berkowitz deserves credit not only for joining the fight, but doing it with a smile on his face.”

However, not all editors sided with Legal Sea Foods. TV station KCBA in the Monterey, Calif., area ran the headline “Restaurant attacks Seafood Watch program” and reported the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s side of the story.

“Seafood Watch and the aquarium are science-based organizations. We’re running all reports and every seafood recommendation we have as a 40- to 100-page report that’s been vetted by outside researchers to make sure we’re accurate,” said an aquarium spokesman.

The station’s website also cited local restaurants, quoting one owner as saying, “This may be something they’re using as an attention grabber. I think they need to leave the science and research to the experts.” asked whether the event is truthful or just a publicity stunt: “The dinner stated innocently enough, Berkowitz tells Fast Company. He thought it might be an opportune time to talk about his feelings about 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. The dinner is undoubtedly a marketing ploy for Legal Sea Foods, but Berkowitz says that improving seafood legislation is one of his passions.”

In the end, the dinner may not be as controversial as it’s being made out to be. But it has certainly drawn the interest of the mainstream media and food writers nationwide.

Editor’s note: Check SeafoodSource next week for coverage of the Legal Sea Foods dinner.

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