US program pushes to put Acadian redfish on the menu


Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
October 6, 2015

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) has been working for the past four years to promote underutilized fish species in the United States with its Out of the Blue program, and this week they are plugging the little-known Acadian redfish in a campaign stretching from Bangor to Boston.

The campaign, while focused on the Gulf of Maine region, has a wider message of asking the industry to think outside the traditional box, to find fish that are plentiful and taste just as good as more common species such as Atlantic cod, which has been under considerable stress in recent years.

The event, running from 1 to 10 October, involves 22 chefs at restaurants throughout the region featuring redfish on their menus and encouraging their customers to try it.

“I think it’s delicious,” said James Benson, GMRI’s sustainable seafood project manager.

Despite its name, it’s considered a whitefish, with a taste and texture similar to rockfish, a common species caught and sold on the U.S. west coast.

On average, the fish is only a foot long, meaning it can be filleted, but is often pan-seared or baked whole.

“It’s not a huge fish,” Benson said.

Despite the enthusiasm among the participating restaurateurs, Benson acknowledged that getting underused fish such as redfish into the mainstream is an uphill battle. This fish in particular might do better in markets in Alaska or California, where the rockfish is more common.

“There’s not a huge market for it anywhere here,” he said.

Price can be a factor, too. The average boat price for redfish in 2013 in the region, Benson said, was only USD 0.55 (EUR 0.49) per pound. That makes it easy to buy and sell in restaurants, but it’s hard for the fishermen to justify the effort to focus on landing it, so it will likely remain little more than a bycatch item until prices come up.

That said, from an environmental standpoint, redfish is a very sustainable species, and Benson said that matters to some diners. “It’s well-managed, the species is doing well.”

This is the fourth year GMRI has run the Out of the Blue project, promoting dogfish earlier this year as an alternative to Atlantic cod. Benson said dogfish is coming into its own in foreign markets, being used extensively in the United Kingdom in fish-and-chip shops

“It’s kind of ironic, because we could be doing it here,” Benson said. “It’s very, very strange. We could be eating a whole lot more of it.”

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