Consider this: “A full 91% of seafood Americans eat comes from abroad,” writes author Paul Greenberg in his important new book American Catch, even though our local waters often teem with fresh fish and shellfish. This summer, demand local seafood from the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean.
1. You’re supporting local businesses. You may pay less for cheaper imports such as tiger shrimp and tilapia farmed in southeast Asia, but if you buy local, most likely you’ll be paying for better quality seafood while also supporting local businesses, including the commercial fishermen, middlemen, and markets that supply good fish and shellfish.
2. You’re voting with your wallet and fork. I’ll never forget the time I asked a young guy at a fish counter at the beach in North Carolina if his tuna was local. “Yeah,” he said as he pulled frozen tuna steaks out of a box labeled Product of Indonesia. “Got it in fresh off the boat this morning.” I never went back. Always ask your fishmonger or the chef at your favorite seafood restaurant where their seafood comes from, and hold them accountable for the information. Showing that you care about an ingredient’s provenance builds trust with a vendor, and down the road, it will help guarantee that you get a better product.
3. Quality and taste matter. Chances are you’ll source a better, safer product from local waters, where regulations are more stringent than abroad. U.S. suppliers import seafood from some countries that face little or no regulation when it comes to pollution, catch limits, or chemical additives used to keep seafood “fresher” longer.
4. Variety and seasonality matter. Don’t get stuck in the farmed salmon or shrimp rut; question the supply chain of any fish that appears on menus and in seafood cases 365 days a year. Vary your seafood consumption by following the natural harvest schedule. Seek out seasonal and regional delicacies like shad roe in the spring, soft-shell crabs in the spring and summer, bluefish and mackerel in the summer, fresh shrimp in the spring and fall, and stone crabs in fall and winter.
5. You’ll learn more about so-called trash fish. A few years ago, fish like triggerfish were considered trash fish, or bycatch, the unwanted catch hauled up in shrimp nets or by fishing trawlers. Now, thanks to marketing efforts by chefs and suppliers, triggerfish is considered a delicacy, and so, too, are lesser-known varieties of grouper and snapper. There are a lot of undiscovered fish swimming in the sea that taste just as good as mainstream choices but get no love. Embrace them.
What’s your favorite fish to cook? Tag your posts, Tweets, and Instagrams with #SouthernFoodNow. You might just be featured on The Daily South.