Sustainability and traceability are top of mind for restaurateurs with seafood on the menu—and the guests they feed. To ease those minds, certification is becoming more formal and widespread.
From Gulf to plate
Louisiana started thinking about a certification program years ago, but it really came together in 2009 following the Gulf oil spill, says Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. “We knew that more chefs wanted to buy local and support Gulf fishermen,” he says. “So we worked with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to develop a program.”
A logo was created for restaurant menus; it alerts customers that the fish was caught by a licensed fisherman and processed in Louisiana under stringent standards.
“Efforts are underway to identify 800 restaurant locales in the state and eventually target markets outside Louisiana too,” reports Ewell. Native species include blue crab, shrimp, oysters, crawfish, black drum and American red snapper.
Brian Landry, chef-partner at New Orleans’ Borgne Restaurant, is one of those chefs Smith refers to. “All our seafood is from the Gulf of Mexico and 80 percent is from Louisiana,” says Landry. “I buy directly from the fishermen, when possible.” Landry has relationships with shrimpers, 80 crabbers that use a nearby processing dock for Pontchartrain blue crab and locals who catch black drum, snapper and yellowfin tuna.
“One of our most popular dishes is Garlic Clove Shrimp, using jumbo Louisiana white shrimp cooked in a stock reduction with piquillo peppers,” he says. Flounder with a blue crab and shrimp stuffing, black drum “a la plancha” and the retro and rich Oyster Spaghetti are also crowd pleasers.
Post-oil spill, “there are no issues with the finfish or shrimp supply in the Gulf, but oysters are a little scarcer. The beds will take two to three years to rebuild,” he reports.
North to Alaska
Alaskan fisheries, which yield such sought-after wild seafood as salmon, halibut, black cod, pollock and king crab, have been strictly managed for over 50 years. Seafood sustainability was even written into Alaska’s state constitution. And that has been enough of a guarantee for most operators and consumers. But with the movement toward third-party certification, especially in Europe, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) initiated a Chain of Custody program in March, 2010.
Participating fisheries must go through a rigorous audit system before they are certified as part of the Alaska FAO-Based Responsible Fisheries Management Program (RFM), notes Randy Rice, technical director for ASMI. Seafood coming from those fisheries can then claim that it is “sourced from a certified Alaska fishery,” confirming to buyers, through a certification seal, that the product can be traced back through the supply chain to that fishery.
“Seven suppliers are currently certified in Alaska in accordance with the RFM program,” says Rice. The next step: accreditation by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the premier body that sets global standards accepted in 159 countries.