Famed music festival South by Southwest features panel on aquaculture for first time

Published on
March 12, 2019

For the first time, famed music and culture festival South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, featured a panel on aquaculture dubbed “The Future of Food: Aquaculture” on 11 March.

The panel was led by Andrew Zimmern, host of The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” who is also a restaurant operator. In addition to Zimmern, the panel included Rod Fujita, co-founder of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Oceans Program; Fiona Lewis, owner and operator of retail market The District Fishwife; and James Wright, editor of the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s “Global Aquaculture Advocate” magazine.

The need for more farmed fish is incredibly apparent, Zimmern noted during the panel. The health of the oceans is suffering, due to climate change, marine pollution and other factors. While demand for seafood continues to grow with the global population, 60 percent of major fish species are fished at sustainable levels, 33 percent of fish species are fished at unsustainable levels, and just 7 percent of fish are under-fished, Zimmern said.

Plus, more studies are finding that it is healthier to eat less meat and more seafood and vegetables.

“A recent Lancet study and everything else tells you we can be eating more fish because of how good it is for us. 150 grams of fish provides nearly 60 percent of the daily protein requirement,” Zimmern said.

There is no better time than the present to market delicious, high-quality, sustainable aquaculture products to consumers, Zimmern said. 

“At no time has any culture had such a relationship with food as we have in the U.S. now. We are geeked out with food in a way that we have never seen before. We can eat ourselves into a world that is better for all of us - that is aquaculture’s potential for solving problems,” he said.

Telling the stories of the fish farmers who raise their food - especially those who do it in a sustainable way - is important for the growth of the industry, according to Zimmern. 

“Telling those stories is harnessing the power of food,” Fujita agreed. “There is nothing more important to our existence than the food we eat. When we can connect an inspiring story about how that food is produced [the industry benefits].”

Consumers tasting high quality farmed fish will also help grow the industry. 

“At our dinner last night, we served several species of farm-raised fish…the farmed rainbow trout from Idaho just blew my mind,” Zimmern said. “Usually, the farmed trout I have had is mushy, but I would serve this [Riverence trout] at my restaurant.”

Zimmern was referring to a corresponding dinner at SXSW co-hosted by The James Beard Foundation, “The Future of Food, Aquaculture Plated”, also featured Zimmern and other top chefs preparing scrumptious dishes from farmed fish and shellfish. At the dinner - primarily sponsored by Verlasso - farmers told the stories of how their fish is produced.

Among the farmed seafood utilized at the dinner were: Pacifico striped bass, Island Creek oysters, Riverence trout, Sterling caviar, and Glitne Snow White Halibut.

One of the biggest challenges the aquaculture industry faces is rumors and misinformation that are spread on social media, Wright said.

“Bad news travels very fast and with very little resistance. A lot of people are getting their information from social media…not from The New York Times and the Washington Post,” he said. “The industry needs to get into that space (social media) and learn how to speak that language.”

When customers ask Lewis for “anything that is wild”, she shows them all the farmed species The District Fishwife has available, and explains how sustainable they are. “Once I explain farmed fish, they usually buy that.”

“Aquaculture is not a dirty word. Aquaculture is the fish of the future and it is what we need to move towards,” Lewis added.

Communicating the environmental benefits of farmed fish will also help boost the industry’s perception among consumers, panelists agreed. For example, it takes significantly less feed to produce farmed fish versus cattle, pork, and chicken, Wright noted. 

“Aquaculture is getting more and more efficient in how they use fishmeal,” he said. 

Plus, many producers are utilizing alternatives to fish for feed, such as soy and algae, according to Wright.

“Getting the economics right is a key part of the solution. Policies and regulations can set the bar, but feed is a major cost factor in finfish,” Fujita said. “Getting policy right and getting pricing right [is essential].”

Aquaculture can be demonstrated as a solution that helps reduce rising costs in the overall food industry, Zimmern said. “Food is expensive and it’s only going to get more expensive. Aquaculture is a way to drive the price down.”

Contributing Editor

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