Gulls beckon as they swoop down over Bodega Bay, hoping to find lunch in the water or among diner’s crumbs. I watch them as I’m standing on one of the few areas of the California coastline that still has an active fishing community. It is smaller than it once was, but there are no trawlers in sight unlike bigger ports to the south. Small fishermen rule here, pulling in seasonal catches of native small fish that coexist with shellfish farms nearby. “There is local seafood, if you know where to get it,” says Monterey Fish Co president Paul Johnson, a Seafood Watch advisory board member and seafood supplier to many Bon Appétit accounts. He understates his point. You not only need to know where to get it, but from whom.
Over the past 35 years, it has become far more likely that the seafood we eat was taken from the sea by enormous ships that drag nets along the ocean’s floor and catch everything in the net’s way. Many vessels are also factories, filleting and freezing portions that are sold to international trading companies who deliver to national distribution systems and then to mega-marts. There is no “story” associated with this seafood, and the small fisherman, like the small farmer, is a diminishing breed. Most suppliers, just getting their hands around sustainability ratings, don’t yet have this issue on their radar (if they ever will). Unfortunately, nor do most NGOs concerned with seafood sustainability. Fortunately, this is beginning to change, as “local food” makes inroads with seafood as well.
One of our chefs wrote me recently, after evaluating a prospective new seafood supplier who told him there was “no local seafood anymore.” The chef was discouraged but not convinced. Could we “adopt” a fishery and buy “everything that comes in off their boats”? he asked. Now, more than before, this seems to be within the realm of possibility.
-Helene York, Director of the Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation