Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sustainability Simplified | NGO's Lists - The confusion, audacity and illegal protectionism!

At times, I cannot believe what I hear or read in this quandary that is the seafood industry. A perfect example: When procuring shrimp, any normal minded chef would review a NGO's (in this case one of the multitude of aquariums out there, lists of what seafood is:

  • Best choice = GREEN
  • Good alternative = YELLOW
  • Do not buy = RED.

Firstly, I find it particularly interesting how one NGO will certify a specific specie as YELLOW, then another NGO classify it GREEN and then a third RED! All the while, we are refering to the same specie of fish caught in the exact same FAO area with this same equipment! I too find it rather comical how one NGO has the man power and audacity to actually blanket all shrimp (and other seafood) from outside of the USA as RED (Do no buy). If this is not a direct form of protectionism, then I am living in the matrix and don't truly exist!

Firstly, I need to digress ... I am not only referring to shrimp but other fish species as well. To make matters worse, these farms are in fact BAP/GAA certified farms, which is a globally recognized assessment and certification denoting: BEST AQUACULTURE PRACTICES.

It is absurdity at its highest, as now a chef that pulls out his Phone or relevant NGO website and scans through his options realizes he can't buy anything imported from those farms outside the USA, he/she will need to source from USA supply lines. One can only hope the US shrimp farms can produce enough shrimp to supply the unsustainable demand of the US consumer, all 300 million of them!

(A hint if you are wondering, it is absolutely impossible for the USA to currently produce enough shrimp to satisfy current levels of demand. This is a verifiable statistic and goes for just about all other seafood items)

These red and yellow lists are killing small farms and other sources of sustainable supply, literally choking them off before they get to market. This, given the population growth and starvation in the world is simply unacceptable and almost criminal to a certain extent, yet they continue on as if they are the authority in the industry and are truly protecting the oceans. I cannot tell you how far from the truth this is. I have it on good accord, that some of these NGO's actually promote specific vendors or companies and force the market to only use what they deem as sustainable and can supply OR they will turn their backs to them. This is not an unbiased objective way at looking at things ...

NGO's should be allowed to post only 1 list, thats right ONE. This would be a GREEN list of species they advise people to eat. You cannot justify your claims that seafood from the far reaches of the world are in fact not sustainable.

Please let us in on your secret into how you are these omnipotent advisory figures that can determine the fish stocks and every farming technique used from all corners of the planet. This is an incredible feat, you are essentially in a league of your own given that organizations such as WWF, FAO and UN are still unable to do this ... simply WOW!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sustainability Simplified | Pete and his Apple Tree

SUSTAINABILITY is to seafood what derivatives are to finance ... a confusing, mystical notion that is supposed to be good but not truly understood at any level by the vast majority.

With the aid of seafood buyers, NGO's (non government organizations), media, social networks and just about ever seafood participant in the supply chain, the misinformation surrounding this elusive topic has literally left a word that has lost all meaning. Humans have a tendency to continue to throw information into a pot in the hopes that in the end it will create something clear and faultless that everyone has a "ah hah" moment to when the end result appears. Ever noticed how this never really seems to happen? With sustainability, this is clearly not the case. In the last 5 years, sustainability has gone from a relatively unknown word, to a deal breaker. Literally every large scale organization out there is clamoring to become, "sustainable" or "green". I need to digress here as I am about to shut my computer down as the silliness of the issue at hand dumbfounds me on every level.

To start ....

What is sustainability?

I am not going to give the UN or FAO description of the typical NGO definition that sounds all great and sophisticated that in the end actually further confuses you to the point you simply believe the little logo represents it, I mean if the clever person says so, it must be right ... right?

No ... The buck stops here!

Sustainability, simply put is making sure that the demand today does not outstrip supply so that our children can also consume the good in question. It is not rocket science. Here is an example on how simple this topic is:

Sustainability Simplified take 1

Pete and his Apple tree

Pete lives on an island with an apple tree that produces 30 apples per month he needs to eat 1 apple a day to survive. At this point you are thinking great (Equilibrium: Supply = Demand), Pete can survive no problem by doing nothing but limiting himself to 1 apple per day.

Suddenly Mary is marooned on the island which throws Pete's plans of a perfect existence into disarray. Naturally Pete is upset, but having company is better than sitting alone so he decides that sharing the apples is the right thing to do. BUT a decision is required, what should Mary and Pete do:

1. Eat apples as if nothing has changed and figure it out by day 15?

2. Realize that they will not be enough apples to eat by day fifteen thereby start rationing the apples?

3. After eating the first apple, plant the seeds and grow additional apple trees to continue producing apples so that they may survive and provide for their future children? (That is of course if Mary fancies Pete)

Initially you are thinking, c'mon two people on an island with 1 apple tree ... apple trees don't grow in coastal areas especially on islands. Well here we will evoke an economists favorite two words, Ceteris Paribus, which is the lazy way of saying, "Holding everything else constant". This means only the island, Mary, Pete and the apple tree currently exist, the future is the only unknown here.

You see as much as people don't want to accept it, we are living in a society that is dominated by individuals that adopt option 1 above, as sad as this is, it is the truth. We would rather trawl out every fish we can until we get to day 15, and then "figure it out". To me, the year 2007 was day 15. It was this year that all of a sudden every buyer, NGO, educated derelict came out of the wood work and proposed the planting of another apple tree! All of a sudden, as if they had all received a cold hard slap across the face, they all wanted to become more sustainable ... preserve those things we call natural resources ... apples!

I could go on and on about this, but I am guessing I am losing your attention right about now, so I will end this blog with this .... It is imperative that one looks far beyond the pretty colored lists and the well designed logos and realize that if we are all to survive on this island (Earth), it is not enough to wait for someone else to plant that elusive apple tree. Look at the facts, don't get confused by the misinformation and realize that NGO's really don't have all the answers. For the most part, we are told that in order to feed the worlds population we should continue taking as much as we can from the current stock of apples and hope that the tree produces enough to sustain the growth in the islands population ... I mean we all know how bad farming is right, gosh!

To put things into perspective, on our island (planet Earth) there are around 353,015 Mary's arriving every day (global birth rate) ... that's around 245 Mary's every single second. In a nut shell, the islands (earth) population is growing at a pretty alarming rate. We either create an environment that can sustain such growth or ... well there really is no 'or' now is there! Now go plant an apple tree.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sustainability: Controlled Sustainable Production Process through Farming (Aquaculture)

Sustainability is driven by the choices we make in terms of consuming products that are favorably in supply when compared to demand. The product chosen should be based on the level of control or traceability one has over the production process. The ability to actively enforce or regulate the industry should also play a vital role in this decision making process.


Given the option to choose between two items to consume. Item 1 produced by man and item 2 produced by GOD, (in this case we are referring to seafood). Think to yourself, which would you have more control over?


MAN MADE = FARM RAISED (Aquaculture)


It may be the case that some farms do in fact negatively impact the environment. The main arguments at present are based on the issue of cross contamination, where the fish's excrement or parasites are transfered into the ecosystems of wild species and that of the feed used, generally a nutritional supplement made primarily from high growth wild caught sustainable fish species . Both seem overly pedantic when one looks at the environmental degradation caused by the fishing fleet of vessels currently operating in our ocean.

One cannot forget that when a fishing vessel departs from port. Those vessels discharge fuel (liquid and gas) into the ocean as well as disrupting natural ecosystems, through their engines and equipment used. This is not even accounting for the unchecked pollution spilt over board by the fisherman. We also have no real control over how much fish and by-catch is actually caught while handlining the "sustainable specie". The term,"out of sight out of mind" comes to mind.

Unlike a farm, this vessel is hundreds of miles out on the big blue yonder (ocean). On returning to port, we are expected to take the word of the fisherman that they did not land any endangered specie and did not throw their soda can over board during their fishing expedition. If economics and game theory have showed us anything, it is that there is a rather significant incentive to not state the complete truth in this situation. Now as for a farm, we can very easily monitor this land or ocean (generally a few miles from the coast) based aqauculture facility from every corner and at every level of the production process.

It is important to ensure a Macro view is taken whereby all direct and indirect economic and environmental costs are assessed to ensure the sustainability of the production process.

Again, ask yourself, if you wanted to truly monitor and control the means of production. Which of the two options would grant you this? Attempting to manage the wild fisheries of the ocean is almost equivalent to attempt to manage nature itself, this we have learnt (on occasion the hard-way) cannot come to pass.


At present the supply of Wild caught seafood is needed, and there are truly innovative ways to regulate and control this means of production. This, as we can all agree on, only takes place when the vessel is in port. Do we really know what goes on out in the big blue yonder where the vessel spends days, weeks if not months on end? Do we really know if the fishermen are releasing all by-catch as it is caught, thus alive? What are they dumping into the ocean while out there? Now ask yourself again, do we really have an all encompassing level of control over this production process at all times to allow enforcement procedures to in enacted?

With a farm, if they are not at least attempting to reach a satisfactory level of production in terms of their impact on the environment, the state could very easily shut off their water or electricity supply - true a little harsh but this could actually happen. Farms are made up of systems of controlled production processes. For them to achieve the quality required, their is a direct incentive for them to ensure the inputs used in the production process (Water, feed, nutrients etc) are of the highest quality available. If anything, our capitalistic market economies have shown that technology is a dynamic variable in any production process where change is continously spurred on by innovation. This is a given, just look at any form of technology around you. The fact that you are sitting behind some personal computer that is powder by a microchip the size of a quarter should prove this point.

By placing enough attention and support onto the farms that are doing it right, will inevitably encourage others to follow suit as market demand will tend favor the industry leaders producing the highest quality product. In most cases, they too will be deemed the most sustainable, lest we forgot the main issue at hand.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Escolar - Time to clear its name

To all the Escolar critiques out there or those sitting on the fence about whether or not to give this fantastic fish a go, this post is dedicated to you.

Firstly, it is important to know that there are in fact two different species of Escolar. In the industry, they are known as smooth skin (Lepidocybium Flavobrunneum) and rough skin (Ruvettus Pretiosus) Escolar, the later (rough skin) being the much cheaper and problematic fish causing the purgative problems mentioned in so many other posts. It is such a pity these two different fish species have been lumped together as it is an amazing eating as well as environmentally sustainable fish to consume.

I honestly believe this fish has earned a bad reputation for an unjust reason based around greed through suppliers trying to make a few extra pennies by purchasing the cheaper version, the Rough Skin. It is imperative that consumers and chefs ask your purveyors what specie of Escolar they are serving and how was it processed. A good seafood processor would ensure too deep-skin the Escolar as this would remove the high oil content muscle tissue between the skin and flesh.

That being said, I urge people to give this fish a try. Firstly, it is not necessary to even eat more than 5oz of the fish due to how rich and filling this fish is. It has the same satiate quality of lobster, and believe it or not when you order a 8oz lobster tail you are only getting around 5oz's of actual lobster meat. Yet you are satisfied correct. Secondly, eating too much of anything is going to cause you problems, food should be consumed in moderation and overindulging in any rich food will have negative effects.

Again, next time you are in a restaurant order the Chilean sea bass and note the size of the portion. You are likely to get nothing over 6 ounces. Eat too much of this fish will also result in you running to the toilet. smooth-skin Escolar is a great fish and should be heralded as such. Be sure to always consume the right specie ... any good chef should know this, and if they don't they will soon!