Selling aquaculture to Americans: Chef Barton Seaver advocates for the “only protein that is guilty until proven innocent”

Published on
December 7, 2017

If you ask celebrated chef and sustainability advocate Barton Seaver, the best way to sell the message of aquaculture to Americans is not to mention seafood until much later on in the conversation, if at all.

As the “only protein that is guilty until proven innocent” in the United States, seafood faces a great deal of stigma from the average American consumer, according to Seaver. That opposition seems to only intensify when the concept of farm-raised seafood comes into play – a troubling phenomenon that isn’t seen nearly as often with land-based farming operations, the accomplished culinary author argued.

“Imagining nature, most people think of a farm, and that’s perfectly allowed – we look at that with honor. Yet we think the seas should be unmarred by the hand of man or our activities,” Seaver explained during his keynote presentation at this week’s Future of Seafood conference, held from 4 to 5 December, and organized by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and the Boston, Massachusetts-based Museum of Science.

“What we need is to create a social narrative around farming seafood,” he said. “We need to get over that social hurdle to really understand that 71 percent of our planet is not being used nearly to its capacity to sustain the people that live on a very small portion of this planet. We need to get to the point where Americans are…clamoring to create jobs and create investment vehicles into aquaculture operations.”  

Establishing this type of successful social narrative requires simultaneously building “a market for [farm-raised seafood],” Seaver said, which may be better accomplished by talking less about fish and shellfish, and more about what Americans already care for: job creation and viable economic prospects for the future.

“There’s more of America underwater than there is above it,” Seaver noted. “When you think about that as an economic frontier, a new economic geography, it doesn’t matter what political background you’re coming from. We can have this conversation if we stop talking about seafood, which has a bias against it, and start talking about jobs, health, food security, food sovereignty, trade imbalances – things that matter to us and things that resonate on Capitol Hill.”    

Seaver dives deeper into the United States’ complex relationship with seafood, both wild-caught and farm-raised, in his latest book , “American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery From Sea to Shining Sea,” which was published on 7 November. He provided the opening address to the first-ever Future of Seafood conference, which was held in Boston and funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. 

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?