Soup-to-Nuts Podcast: What does it take to meet rising demand for sustainably sourced seafood?

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Soup-to-Nuts Podcast: What does it take to meet rising demand for sustainably sourced seafood?

Related tags Fish

Until recently, Americans only ate about one-third of the recommended amount of seafood per week, but industry insiders say this is changing and they note shoppers aren’t reaching for just any seafood – they want sustainably sourced seafood that is not only good for them, but also the environment.

According to a consumer survey conducted last summer by ingredient supplier Cargill, seafood is in higher demand with 82% of Americans adding it to their lunch and dinner plates and 72% recognizing that seafood is important for health and nutrition.

This suggests that recent efforts by FDA, USDA and other stakeholders to convince more Americans – especially women and children – to eat at least two servings of seafood per week as recommended by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans could be working.

But as consumers make this shift, Cargill reports, they want to ensure that what they eat doesn’t harm the environment or the people and communities that catch or raise the fish. And to show just how serious they are, Cargill adds, 88% of the 1,000 Americans it surveyed said they were willing to pay more for seafood that is certified sustainable and responsibility sourced.

Cargill, which makes sustainable aqua nutrition supplies for producers, isn’t the only one betting big on the rise of sustainable seafood. Nearly two-thirds of the 700 professional chefs and members of the American Culinary Federation surveyed by the National Restaurant Association also predicted that in 2018 sustainable seafood will be “hot.”

One company that is taking an innovative approach to providing more sustainable seafood is Blue Circle Foods, which aims to “transform fishing for good by supplying seafood that is good for people, good for the planet and great for your taste buds.”

To meet this ambitious mission, David Pilat, the vice president of product development at Blue Circle Foods, explains that the company uses some unique strategies to produce farmed fish more efficiently and to protect the environment, as well as fishers, when catching wild seafood.

Looking first at the company’s approach to farming fish, Pilat is quick to acknowledge that aquaculture historically has a bad rap that is partly related to the traditional way farmed fish were fed. But, he says, Blue Circle Foods has created a sustainable and efficient feed for its farmed fish.

Instead of using whole wild fish, the company uses a feed it helped create called In the Blue, which blends oil from herring, cod, capeline and mackerel trimmings with algae. The feed helped Blue Circle Foods lower its “fish in fish out ratio” ​so that for every 0.75 pounds of fish it removes from the ocean to use as feed, it raises about 1 pound of farmed fish, Pilat said, adding, this is far better than the industry average of 1.5 pounds in to 1 pound out.

Blue Circle Foods’ In the Blue feed also is notable because it uses trimmings from human-grade fish that otherwise would be used for non-food purposes, such as creating fertilizer, or wasted. And as industry is quickly learning food waste has become a huge turnoff for consumers and should be avoided if possible.

Lumpsuckers replace chemicals

Another innovative way that Blue Circle Foods is farming seafood sustainably is by using lumpsuckers as a natural remedy to protect against parasites and sea lice.

Pilat explains lumpsuckers “are this wonderful small fish”​ that eat sea lice off salmon, which is a big job at salmon farms.

Another way the company reduces the risk of chemical exposure to the environment is by using untreated nets. Pilat explains that while chemicals can help prohibit the growth of algae on fishing nets, they can also leak into the surrounding water – making the fish and ocean unhealthy.

Instead, Blue Circle Foods manually cleans the nets by hand or with automatic washers, which is more work but better for the environment, Pilat said.

Pelagic helps Blue Circle Foods ensure traceability

When it comes to wild fish, Blue Circle Foods takes just as much care to ensure it harvests seafood as sustainably as possible.

One way it does this is by only buying seafood from trusted fishers and from regions like the Maldives, which have strict fishing guidelines. It also sources Fair Trade certified fish to ensure workers are paid a living wage.

To ensure the fish Blue Circle Foods buys actually meets these standards, the company also relies on a strict 100% traceability standard, which it enforces in part by using technology from Pelagic Data Systems.

Melissa Garren, who is the chief scientific officer at Pelagic Data System’s explains the technology is unique in that it can be completely solar powered – which means it can go on any type or size of boat and therefore go into all areas. It can also be plugged in though, for cloudy and dark fishing excursions.

The system also is unique in that it collects vastly more location data – roughly 600 locations per hour – than the industry standard of one to six locations per hour. It stores this information until the boat is within range of a cellular network to keep the cost of uploading high resolution images and vast quantities of data form being too cost prohibitive, she said.

This data can then be used at varying degrees of detail to prove that fishers are following the rules and to help buyers trace where the seafood is sourced.

The effort is worth it

While all these extra steps and extra technology may sound expensive and difficult to implement at scale, Pilat says they are worth it – and that they give Blue Circle Foods a competitive edge. Plus, echoing Cargill’s finding, Pilate says consumers are willing to offset the added expense by paying a premium price.

Just like Cargill and the National Restaurant Association, Pilat also believes that sustainable practices are the key to convincing consumers to eat more seafood. But he notes that more can and should be done, such as the creation of more value-added products, including ready to eat or easy to prepare products.

He also noted that Blue Circle Foods, like many other companies, promote easy to follow, delicious recipes online as a way to help ease consumers’ fear of cooking seafood and inspire them to give it a shot. 

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