Q&A: Sustainability a full-time job

City Sea Foods is the latest U.S. seafood supplier to add the position of sustainability officer. Melissa Carrasquillo was promoted to chief sustainability officer to head up the Los Angeles-based company's newly created sustainability task force. Carrasquillo talks to SeafoodSource about her new role and how she got involved in the sustainable seafood movement.

Forristall: What does your new role entail?
It entails developing a sustainable seafood program that takes the guesswork out of sustainability for our chefs. There are thousands of NGOs all with differing advice, and it can be difficult for chefs to navigate the NGO battlefield to determine what is sustainable and what isn't. So I developed a sustainable seafood list that includes information on the area where the species is caught and the method of catch.

I used a number of different NGOs. For example, some groups blanket imports as unsustainable, but they can offer chefs a cost effective and sustainable solution. So for those species I looked at the Marine Stewardship Council and World Wildlife Fund.

My goal is to essentially work directly with the chefs to understand sustainability as a concept and what makes a species sustainable. I also evaluate their current purchasing practices and made suggestions for replacing red-list items.

How did you get involved in seafood sustainability?
It was about five years ago. My husband is an environmental economist and owner of Status Seafood, and they market only sustainable seafood imported from South Africa. So I learned about sustainable practices from a producer standpoint, so I have that wealth of knowledge plus research my husband has done.

Explain your work with the Aquarium of the Pacific's Seafood for the Future program?
Our company goal is to source 50 percent sustainable seafood by the end of the year, and they're helping. When I made my sustainable seafood list for chefs, they fact checked it and advised on other products to augment the list. They've also been helping us determine more local seafood items that are sustainable.

I also work in tandem with them doing trainings at restaurants and hotels. They will tell that staff about the concept of sustainability, and then I'll go into what products each individual restaurant is using. We also hold monthly events for chefs and tell them about what's new and what's happening with new products on the market. We also inform them on updates and changes in scientific research.

What are some of the hot-button issues within the sustainable seafood movement right now?
Trying to find alternatives for seafood and finding new resources. Chefs always want something new; they want to be innovators and keep people enticed. It's a challenge as a distributor to find new great seafood items. The key to sustainability is essentially diversifying what diners are eating. There's a lot of great species that are underutilized.

Shrimp is always a hot-button issue because of the high demand. As for bluefin tuna, I'm glad the industry covered it so well and kept chefs and diners informed that it's really something you shouldn't touch at this point in time. Who doesn't love bluefin tuna? But we're [at a] place where we need to back off altogether. There are a lot of great alternatives, and if we give diners these other great choices and eliminate [bluefin tuna] as a choice, the ocean will get time to correct itself. So we really have to back off or choose farm-raised when it becomes available.

What's the future of the sustainable seafood movement?
I couldn't be more excited about the future of this movement. We're getting better at the science and better at sourcing. I'm just so thrilled with where the environmental movement has gone. I'm happy its such a part of the collective consciousness and so happy to be a part of this revolution of the industry.

I'm really proud of a lot of our bigger clients — like Crystal Cruises, Fairmont and Trader Joe's — that in the last couple of months have made sustainability commitments. They've made fantastic changes, and it's only going to get better and better from here. It's really just the start of the movement.

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