Seafood fraud a hot topic at US restaurant show

Published on
May 20, 2019

Seafood fraud is a hot topic at the ongoing National Restaurant Show, taking place from 18 to 21 May in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

Celebrity chefs Barton Seaver, Rick Bayless, and Andrew Zimmern all touched on the topic during public appearances at the show, as did executives from several top foodservice companies.

“The seafood industry as a whole is ill-served and everyone loses when seafood fraud happens,” Barton Seaver, a chef, author, and founder of the Coastal Culinary Academy, told SeafoodSource at the event, which is the largest U.S. restaurant show.

Seaver spoke on a panel about seafood mislabeling and sustainability along with Bayless, who is the chef and owner of Frontera Grill and other restaurants, and Josephine Theal, director of category management for food and hospital management firm Delaware North.

“We as operators create an environment in which fraud can profit,” Seaver said. “If I as a chef am only willing to buy cod, then I’ve created a situation where pollock needs to become cod,” Seaver said. Some restaurants are okay with buying the “flaky white fish of the day” and labeling it “cod,” Seaver added.

However, the seafood industry cannot afford for chefs and restaurant owners to mislabel seafood, Seaver said.

“Seafood is a category of ingredient that is considered guilty before proven innocent. There is so much work to be done, just to get the consumer to neutral. They are wondering, ‘Does it have mercury, is it fresh, and so many other questions,’” Seaver said. “With seafood, you have to prove you’re innocent before anyone is willing to buy you, so even the smallest bit of fraud, intentional or not, has the potential to give the industry a black eye. I see it as a major problem.”

Seaver and the other panelists also offered solutions to fraud, including providing a “strong seafood program with traceability and verification of sources.”

“This not only mitigates risk but also creates a very positive narrative around sourcing, and really drives value in the seafood products you are … serving,” he said.

Seaver also urged chefs to diversify the seafood they are willing to purchase. He discussed at length the benefits of fishery improvement project in the sustainable development of marine-dependent economies, and mentioned the Indonesian snapper as an example.

In that snapper fishery, “juveniles are what’s in demand, so it is being over-exploited,” Seaver said. The snapper could be sustainably fished if the market demand shifted toward large fillets that would have to be portioned, he said. 

“This is an example of a major opportunity that chefs have. We are the ones standing in the way of sustainability happening,” he said.

Andrew Zimmern, host of The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods,” is also appearing at the show to highlight Verlasso salmon. Speaking to reporters, Zimmern highlighted Verlasso's sustainable practices and discussed his recent trip to the brand’s farm sites in Patagonia, Chile. Videos shown at Verlasso’s booth at the event include content captured by Zimmern during his trip. 

In a separate panel on sustainable seafood sourcing, Brent Durec, culinary specialist for Sysco in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, discussed how the major foodservice distributor is sourcing more sustainable seafood.

“Over the past couple of years … we have started to look into fish with higher biomass,” Durect said. For example, salmon is “king” on the West coast of Canada. 

“Species like sockeye and coho are most desirable, but we are starting to see more pink and chum on the market. These fish spawn in larger numbers and the biomass is a healthier option for the future,” Durec said.

Sysco British Columbia is also sourcing more farmed fish, including a farmed Gindara sablefish, which is “artisan crafted in partnership with First Nations on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island Canada,” Gindara said on its web site.

“Even though it is pen-farmed in the ocean, this is a native fish so there is no worry for escape. It is penned 150 feet below the surface, so parasites are less likely to happen,” Durec said. “I really feel confident that companies like ours are working in the right direction. It’s important that we lead the industry … and support the smaller fishermen to keep our ocean for years to come. We can’t just think about tomorrow; we need to think further ahead and help educate consumers.”

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