Cold Fish, Hot Topic: Thoughts from the International Boston Seafood Show

Sustainability emerged as a major concern during the 2010 annual International Boston Seafood Show, from the keynote address to panels and roundtables of experts devoted to exploring an issue regarded as complex, controversial, and of critical importance.

Speaking with humor and conviction, chef Kevin Cottle, finalist and runner up on Fox TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” delivered the keynote address, “Local and Sustainable Seafood:  Why it Makes Sense.”  Growing up on Cape Cod, Cottle developed a love for the ocean, and his commitment to sustainable seafood is a natural outgrowth of those roots, continuing his efforts in the Department of Agriculture’s “Farm to Chef” program.

“88 million tons of seafood is ripped out of the ocean each year,” Cottle declared, adding that 90% of the world’s predatory fish have been consumed over the past fifteen years.  “Humanity is living unsustainably.  Basically, we’re destroying ourselves.”

Despite these sobering words, Cottle remains confident that through hard work and consumer education, the tide can turn.  At the Country Club of Farmington, CT, where he serves as executive chef, the members unfamiliar with many of the ingredients still take delight in the variety of species he brings to the table. Though many of the rules established politically aren’t always regulated, Cottle emphasized the consumer choice as a “vote” every time one consumes food.

However, as the results of market research conducted by the Perishables Group made clear, other priorities compete aggressively for that vote.  In a survey that polled over 1,000 consumers’ factors that influenced their seafood purchasing decisions, food safety, type of seafood, and price, represented 83% of the total. Part of the explanation for this prioritizing may be the 30 different eco-labels that change for every species in the world of seafood purchasing. Larry Andrews, Retail Marketing Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, argued that sustainability can’t even be defined by consumers, and that ultimately sustainability is more of a trade issue than a consumer issue.  Dr. Cathy Roheim, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative, seemed to agree, citing the possibility of consumers to incorrectly equate Alaskan salmon with west coast salmon when they hear the latter is in trouble.

While the poll’s results present the problem of awareness regarding seafood sustainability, those who considered themselves knowledgable about seafood sustainability tended to be excellent consumers of seafood, with 54% of them buying seafood every week.  The creation of the Food Marketing Insitute’s Sustainable Seafood Working Group is an encouraging development, incorporating twenty-two retailers, NGOs, suppliers, fishermen, and government agencies in pursuit of common goals. – Roy Peabody

Roy Peabody (email: is an experienced logistics professional with an interest in sustainable food. He is a former logistics manager for MRC Polymers ( , a plastics recycler, and has served as logistics administrator at Red Tomato (, a nonprofit working with local farmers to build a truly sustainable food system.

Posted by: Chefs Collaborative

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