Chefs are increasingly realizing that farm-raised seafood has an important place beside wild harvest.
Over sixty percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is eaten away from home. About 50% of our seafood supply is farm-raised, but many chefs don’t have a good understanding of aquaculture. In order to answer their questions, the National Aquaculture Association has an extensive set of materials designed specifically for foodservice providers.
Additionally, Linda J. ODierno, Outreach Specialist with the National Aquaculture Association, shared some insight in this exclusive Q&A.
Q: What is U.S. aquaculture? And how has it evolved in recent years?
A: Aquaculture is the production of marine and freshwater organisms under controlled conditions. This includes fish and shellfish for human consumption, for sport fishing ponds, and for stocking to enhance wild populations. Aquaculture also includes such diverse products as baitfish, ornamental fish and cultured pearls. Over the years, the aquaculture industry in the United States has worked to become more sustainable and environmentally-friendly through the production of better animal feeds and grow-out technologies.
Q: Is U.S aquaculture sustainable? How does it different from other countries?
A: In the United States, rigorous federal and state government regulations help to ensure that U.S. farm-raised fish and shellfish are sustainable, environmentally friendly, high quality and wholesome. This may not be the case with some imported products.
Q: How does domestic aquaculture benefit our food supply?
A: U.S. domestic aquaculture helps build on the trend for local food products. Imported seafood often travels tens of thousands of miles before it lands on the dinner table. Because it is illegal to use drugs and hormones to promote growth in U.S. farm-raised fish, using domestic products not only benefits the environment, but it also helps to meet the consumer desire for a healthy, wholesome food choice. The diversity of U.S. farm-raised seafood also allows chefs to be creative with new menu choices that attract younger diners.
Q: How much seafood does the U.S. import? And can U.S. Aquaculture offset that? By how much (conceivably and in a perfect world)?
A: In terms of food security, it is critical that the U.S. grows its fish production capability. Over 90% of all the seafood we consume is imported. Global demand is expected to increase as a result of simple population growth, consumers adopting a healthier lifestyle, and a growing middle class in countries like China and India. These global economic shifts will decrease the amount of imported seafood available in the American market. If we want to continue to serve the American consumer great seafood dishes, we need to increase our domestic production.
Q: How do chefs typically perceive farmed seafood? And where do they get seafood sustainability information and guidance?
A: Chefs are increasingly realizing that farm raised seafood has an important place beside wild harvest. Recognizing that we need more food to support a growing global population and the rigorous set of rules governing U.S. aquaculture production, many environmental groups including the Environmental Defense Fund and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, are giving positive ratings to U.S. farm-raised seafood. According to the Scientific Report of the 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, “farm-raised finfish (e.g. salmon and trout) is more sustainable than terrestrial animal production in terms of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and land/water use.” Fish are also one of the most efficient converters of feed into animal protein.
Q: Why should club chefs buy farmed fish and shellfish grown in the U.S?
A: In the United States, the FDA operates a mandatory Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program for seafood production. The federal program is supplemented by state and local licensing programs. In addition, U.S. farm-raised oysters, clams, and mussels are closely monitored by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC). This is a critical step since these products are often consumed raw. These food safety rules coupled with the U.S. environmental regulations help to ensure that U.S. farm-raised seafood products meet consumer expectations.
Q: What value does it bring to a country club to feature farmed-fish?
A: Because farm-raised fish and shellfish are consistent in supply, quality and price, they offer a variety of benefits to the club chef. Menus, promotions and daily specials can be planned well in advance. Pricing strategies can be developed, so that profit margins are predictable. Consistent supply and quality help maintain customer satisfaction. Wild harvest fish can be subject to drastic price swings based on supply and demand.
Q: Are there nutritional differences in farmed fish as opposed to wild fish? What about taste differences?
A: In most cases, farmed fish are equal in nutritional value to wild harvest product. In the United States, it is illegal to use hormones or drugs to increase the growth rate of farmed fish. This is not the case with many other livestock products. Taste tends to be consistent in farmed fish. For wild harvest product, taste can differ and may not meet diner expectations.
Q: Many chefs like to talk about the story behind the sources of their ingredients. Can aquaculture offer that same nostalgia?
A: There are lots of great stories to be told about U.S. aquaculture. Many U.S. fish farming families have been in business for generations. They share the same love of the outdoors with other farming families. They take pride in their products especially when raising fish like sturgeon and Atlantic salmon that are on the brink of extinction in the wild. Aquaculture allows products like true sturgeon caviar to be enjoyed without damaging our fragile wild stocks of fish.
Q: Why do chefs hesitate to use farmed fish products in favor of wild capture?
A: There is a place in the market for both farmed and wild caught seafood. Our U.S. wild harvest fisheries are carefully managed by federal agencies to ensure that those products are sustainable and available to future generations. That means the supply of wild harvest fish is limited, but there is a growing demand for seafood. To help ensure that the supply is sustainable, we need to grow the aquaculture industry.