The Future of Sustainable Fishing Begins
We’ve started working with a really cool new product at Hook – a West African Black Tiger Prawn. I have never seen shrimp this big (these things are each the size of my forearm), and we’ve had a lot of fun selling them, putting them on the menu as "A Shrimp." They weigh about a pound apiece, and we’re serving them marinated in lemon, thyme and olive oil, grilled, over squid ink risotto.
We got our hands on the prawns through our relationship with the West African Trade Hub (WATH) and West African Sustainable Seafood Development Alliance (WASSDA). Both groups are interested in promoting sustainable African seafood here in the States. Much like the seafood I get from Tobago Wild, this product from Partenaire Co. is in our hands within 24 hours of its capture, and $.80 of every dollar that I spend goes to the West African village fishermen, thus directly to the communities which need it most.
This is a really great opportunity for us to promote sustainable economic development in the countries of Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia, where the fisherman of WASSDA are based. These countries have decided to make an investment in their own future through responsible resource management – meaning the fisheries are being managed by the national governments, and foreign vessels have been kicked out of the fishing grounds.
By buying directly and offering a higher price, chefs can encourage local fisherman to leave more fish in the ocean, thus insuring survival of the fishery, as well as the resources necessary to feed local populations. I can’t go to the table and solicit donations for humanitarian causes like, say, the crisis in Darfur. But I can get my guests to try something unique and pay a good price for it – and when they buy one of these prawns, they are helping the West African economy, which is helping the area’s environmental, social, and political stability. It might seem a grandiose statement, but it’s true.
You may ask: how is it sustainable for a DC chef to serve West African seafood? This is where “utilizing existing travel infrastructure” comes into play. The shrimp (like all the seafood I get flown to me, except for the Alaskan products) travel to DC in the cargo hold of a passenger plane that is already flying between Africa and the US, and thereby makes a more efficient use of an existing energy expenditure.
Think of it this way – if we were to suddenly only eat what is locally available, we’d put serious demands on our local resources. So you have to balance out the bad with some good, and you have to be flexible. It’s up to me to push people to be as sustainable as possible, within a realistic context. Maximizing the usage of energy that is already being expended is one way to do so.
The idea as a whole represents what I believe to be the future of sustainable fisheries: focusing on diversification, and taking an artisanal (and practical) approach to global demand to enable resurgence of our own local stocks.
As chefs we need to work on diversifying demand because we are the ones who can pay the price that it takes to push fisheries towards sustainable practices. If we diversify demands to take smaller amounts from various fishery economies around the world, then we are shaping demand to match supply, and building a sustainable future.
These shrimp are a luxury item on our menu, and we price the dish at $65. With the first batch that we received we sold over 50 orders in no time, and have had numerous requests for their return.
Using these products not only supports the right people who are doing the right thing, but enables us to offer something unique and delicious. Other species are available, but at this point I am waiting for a bit more information on the sustainability of these stocks before putting them on my menu. I’m trying to build business for this African seafood, so hopefully you'll be seeing quite a bit of it around in the coming months.
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me with any questions or comments.