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Aid Sandy Recovery, Eat Northeastern Seafood

northeastern fishing

Pots on the deck of the Fishing Vessel Hard Runnin' Tide, which fishes for lobster in the North Atlantic off the coast of Maine. Credit: Andrea Trabucco-Campos

As the Northeast struggles to get back on its feet after the roar of Sandy, so are the fishermen feeling the aftereffects of that wild storm. The hurricane blasted them. Fishermen up and down the coast lost their docks, their boats and their waterfront. Restaurants too paid a high price. So many of them are still digging out. Although Mary Cleaver, owner of The Green Table in New York City, lost power for several days, she managed to save at least 1,500 pounds of food to give to Saint John’s Bread and Life Soup Kitchen. Others did the same.

That said, as the fishermen get back to work and return to their boats, and the restaurants bail out their kitchens and reopen their doors, many chefs have made a commitment to help fishermen in the Northeast and New England by serving their fish. Fisherman and dock owner, Jared Auerbach encouraged people in a blog post to add Northeast and New England fish to their menus to support the effort. New York restaurants such as Cleaver’s The Green Table ABC Kitchen, Mark Murphy’s Ditch Plains  and Fred’s at Barney’s  were some of the first to offer Northeastern fish on their menus to help fishermen affected by Hurricane Sandy. They were joined by Michel Nischan and Jon Vaast at The Dressing Table in Connecticut, Lonnie Zoeller of Vinoteca in Washington, D.C., and Amos Watts of Jax Fish House in Denver.

These days we all want to know where the things we consume come from, including food. Fish is no different. The easiest way to know where your fish is sourced is to know your fishermen or at the least know the distributor who will know your fishermen and where your fish comes from.

Help finding local seafood, wherever you are

Sea to Table  in Brooklyn, N.Y., is helping both fishermen and restaurants to get fresh local seafood from the dock to market and on the table the next day. This is an important job especially now in the immediate aftermath of Sandy.

In 1996 before the Dimin family started Sea to Table, they traveled to a small island at the end of the West Indian archipelago. While on vacation they had the opportunity to watch the local fishermen using the same traditional wooden pirogues, also known as dugout canoes, that had been used for thousands of years to fish their abundant waters. Those fishermen had more fish than they knew what to do with.

An idea was spawned during that vacation. And seven years later, in 2003, the Dimin family built what they’d seen in Tobago, by seeking out sustainably managed fisheries in Alaska; the Gulf Coast; from Florida through the Carolinas to the Chesapeake Bay; and from Montauk, N.Y., through the Gulf of Maine.

What kinds of fish should we be eating?

Fish, especially salmon, herring and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. So they’re good for us. But fish, like produce, can be full of pesticides, toxins and other sorts of unhealthy matter. Tuna and swordfish have more mercury than some other fishes. Tilefish, mackerel and shark are also high in mercury. So you might want to eat these fish on a less regular basis and look to monkfish, cod, striped bass and flounder as your go-to everyday fish.

Like any other food, it’s important to know if the fish you’re eating is being fished sustainably. This means the area where the fishermen are fishing is not being over-fished.

We’re told now that “wild” fish are the healthiest fish. Recent studies of wild salmon caught off the coast of British Columbia show those fish may be infected with a virus, however, which isn’t so great.

And what about farmed fish? A 2003 report from the Environmental Working Group showed that farmed salmon in the U.S. has the highest levels of PCBs, toxic man-made chemicals. And a widely publicized study in the journal Science in January 2004 suggested that farmed Atlantic salmon had higher levels of PCBs and other toxins than wild Pacific salmon. Subsequent research has found that the health benefits of both farmed and wild salmon exceed potential risks.

More and more customers want to know where their fish is coming from. I am convinced that fresh local wild fish from small-scale fisheries is healthy and delicious.

So this is a call to action for chefs and diners not only in the Northeast and New England, but also all over: Eat and buy local fish. Ask your purveyor what’s local and fresh when you’re cooking at home, and as diners ask your server where your fish was caught.

Consider Northeastern seafood for Thanksgiving

For Thanksgiving, why not consider a stuffed fillet of monkfish? Or a fish stew that includes local mussels, wild littleneck clams, oysters and Maine lobster? You can have all the Thanksgiving Day side dishes such as smashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, sautéed green beans and a lovely kale and radicchio salad with local gorgonzola cheese. But you’d be helping the Northeast fishermen to recover after a brutal battle with Hurricane Sandy. At the very least, think fish for that special after-Thanksgiving Day party.

Sea to Table provides a direct connection with these fishermen. They know the local fishermen and the waters they fish in the Northeast and throughout the country. They are in constant communication with these fishermen and you can get more information about anything fish related from them.

Top photo: Pots on the deck of the Fishing Vessel Hard Runnin’ Tide, which fishes for lobster in the North Atlantic off the coast of Maine. Credit: Andrea Trabucco-Campos

Zester Daily contributor Katherine Leiner has published many award-winning books for children and young adults and, more recently, her first novel for adults, "Digging Out" (Penguin). Her most recent book, "Growing Roots: The New Sustainable Generation of Farmers, Cooks and Food Activists," won half a dozen awards, including the National Indie Excellence Gold Medal Award. Leiner's next novel is due out this year.

  • Sea to Table 11·19·12

    When you write:

    We’re told now that “wild” fish are the healthiest fish. Recent studies of wild salmon caught off the coast of British Columbia show those fish may be infected with a virus, however, which isn’t so great.

    This is misleading to the reader because this virus came from FARMED salmon that were not raised in properly closed pens. Wild salmon is actually one of the healthiest natural food resources we have left, and the best way to protect that resource for future generations is to vote with your fork and eat more of it, not revert to eating farmed salmon, which seafood sustainability NGOs will tell you to avoid. Your article overall conveyed that wild, domestic fish is the way to go, but we would hate for readers to get the wrong impression and think that there is no difference between farmed and wild salmon.

  • katherine leiner 11·19·12

    Thank you so much for clearing this up for me and for the readers of this piece. I was hopeful that my information was inaccurate. would you say that by in large, wild fish is better for one than farmed fish? And if so, why? Thanks again.

  • Sea to Table 11·19·12

    In spite of all the good intentions of progressive aquaculturalists, compelling evidence continues to mount as to inherent dangers with fish farming. Not only are fish farms industrial pollutants, but in creating 1 pound of farmed salmon more than 3 pounds of wild fish meal is consumed. These are long established facts. More troubling is the current epidemic of salmon viruses that are quickly spreading from fish farms into wild populations. The uproar over a new proposed mega-farm in Washington state as well as the controversial GMO Frankenfish are refocusing the need for extreme caution with aquaculture.

    Although there is a movement for improvement, the vast majority of fish farming is done outside the United States under unacceptable conditions. With recent management programs, wild fish stocks in US waters have improved dramatically and fishermen are optimistically looking forward for the first time in recent memory. Supporting small-scale sustainable wild fisheries is not only good for fish, but entire fishing communities.

    Here are links for more information:

  • katherine leiner 11·19·12

    Again, thanks for this information which is not only very informative, but it allows all of us to make hard choices when it comes to our dinner. Stay in touch with us.

  • katherine leiner 11·20·12

    Another link might clear up lots of the information that we’ve been hearing about which fish to eat and which to avoid.