Tag Archives: seafood

Obama administration announces rule to deal with illegal fishing, seafood fraud

The Obama administration on Dec. 8 issued a final rule to implement the Seafood Import Monitoring Program to address illegal fishing and seafood fraud in the United States.

This rule will require imported seafood at risk of illegal fishing and seafood fraud to be traced from the fishing boat or farm to the U.S. border, helping to stop illegally caught and mislabeled seafood from entering the United States.

This is a statement by Oceana senior campaign director Beth Lowell:

Today’s announcement is a groundbreaking step towards more transparency and traceability in the seafood supply chain. We applaud President Obama for his ambitious plan to require traceability for imported seafood ‘at-risk’ of illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

For the first time ever, some imported seafood will now be held to the same standards as domestically caught fish, helping to level the playing field for American fishermen and reducing the risk facing U.S. consumers.

But the problem doesn’t stop here. We must continue to build on this important work and expand seafood traceability to include all seafood sold in the U.S. and extend it throughout the entire supply chain.

Without full-chain traceability for all seafood, consumers will continue to be cheated, hardworking, honest fishermen will continue to be undercut, and the long-term productivity of our oceans will continue to be in jeopardy.

American consumers deserve to know more about their seafood, including what kind of fish it is, and how and where it was caught or farmed. While Oceana celebrates today’s announcement, there’s still more to do in the fight against illegal fishing and seafood fraud.

 

About Oceana…

Oceana’s investigations of fish, shrimp, crab cakes and most recently salmon, in retail markets and restaurants found that, on average, one-third of the seafood examined in these studies was mislabeled — the product listed on the label or menu was different from what the buyer thought they purchased, often a less desirable or lower-priced species. Oceana has observed threatened species being sold as more sustainable, expensive varieties replaced with cheaper alternatives and fish that can cause illness substituted in place of those that are safer to eat.

In September, Oceana released a report detailing the global scale of seafood fraud, finding that on average, one in five of more than 25,000 samples of seafood tested worldwide was mislabeled. In the report, Oceana reviewed more than 200 published studies from 55 countries, on every continent except Antarctica, and found seafood fraud in 99.9 percent of the studies. The studies reviewed also found seafood mislabeling in every sector of the seafood supply chain: retail, wholesale, distribution, import/export, packaging/processing and landing.

The report also highlighted recent developments in the European Union to crack down on illegal fishing and improve transparency and accountability in the seafood supply chain. According to Oceana’s analysis, preliminary data out of the EU suggests that catch documentation, traceability and consumer labeling are feasible and effective at reducing seafood fraud.

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to stop seafood fraud, please visit www.oceana.org/fraud.

Shrimp slaves wait for justice 8 months after Thai raid

Nearly eight months ago, migrant worker Tin Nyo Win thought he was doing the right thing — the only thing — to help free his pregnant wife from slavery inside a Thai shrimp peeling shed. He ran for help and prompted police to raid the business, freeing nearly 100 Burmese laborers, including child slaves.

Yet the couple ended up first in jail and then held inside a government shelter, even though they were victims of trafficking. That’s where they remain today with a few other workers from the Gig Peeling Factory, waiting to testify in a slow-moving court case while their former employers are free on bail. Angry and frustrated, they just want to go home.

“I feel like I’ve been victimized three times. Once in the shrimp shed, the second time in … jail and now again in the shelter,” Tin Nyo Win said on a mobile phone smuggled in by another Burmese worker.

“Even prisoners know how many years or months they will be in prison, but we don’t know anything about how many years or months we’ll be stuck here,” he added. “It’s worse than prison.”

Recently, Thailand was lifted off the U.S. State Department’s blacklist, where it had been listed for the past two years as one of the world’s worst human trafficking offenders alongside North Korea, Syria, Iran and others. Some activists saw the upgrade as a political move by Washington to appease an ally, and 21 labor, anti-trafficking and environmental groups expressed their disappointment in an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Thai government lobbied hard ahead of the announcement, saying new laws have been passed to help protect victims. The government also said that 241 human traffickers were sentenced in 2015, and 34 officials are facing prosecution for involvement or complicity in the trade.

But critics say low-level people or brokers from other countries are typically the ones jailed instead of Thai business owners, corrupt police or high-ranking officials.

“Debt bondage for migrants is still the norm, and police abuse and extortion happens on a daily basis all over the country,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch in Bangkok. “While it’s good that prosecutions are going up, the reality is that we’re still talking about the tip of the iceberg here.”

The country has been under international pressure to clean up its $7 billion annual seafood export industry, including the threat of a seafood import ban from the European Union. An Associated Press investigation last year uncovered a slave island with migrant fishermen locked in a cage and buried under fake Thai names. The reporting, which led to more than 2,000 men being freed, followed the slave-caught seafood to Thailand and on to American dinner tables.

The investigation also focused on the Gig Peeling shed in Samut Sakhon, just outside of Bangkok, where Tin Nyo Win and his wife, Mi San, were forced to work 16 hours a day. They had to rip the guts, heads and tails off shrimp that entered supply chains feeding some of America’s biggest companies, including Red Lobster, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and most major U.S. supermarkets. Many companies have said they are taking steps to prevent labor abuses.

Col. Prasert Siriphanapitat, the Samut Sakhon deputy police commander, said witness testimony began in April in the Gig shed case against three Thai defendants and two Burmese brokers. Only one Burmese suspect has been located. He added that new laws mandate quick prosecution of human trafficking, meaning the Gig case will likely be closed by the end of the year. But Tin Nyo Win said he and his wife have not spoken to a prosecutor or been informed about the case’s progress.

Suwalee Jaiharn, director of the country’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons division, said Thailand’s eight shelters are there to protect undocumented workers and denied that those housed inside are prohibited from leaving. She added, however, that some victims of trafficking are more closely monitored if they are expected to testify in criminal cases.

“We are protection centers and not detention centers,” she said. “There is an exception when some victims are witnesses in human trafficking cases. We have to give them extra protection.”

Suwalee said Thailand’s laws allow victims to testify ahead of their trials so they can go home quickly, or stay and work in the country. But aid workers said these options are rarely made available to migrant workers, leaving victims to wait in facilities far from home.

“Somebody’s always ordering you, and you are always under watch by someone and having to get permission all the time. This is totally what trafficking victims would have gone through while they were being trafficked,” said Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, senior case adviser at the Bangkok-based nonprofit Project Issara, which assists trafficking victims. “It is very difficult for them to feel empowered and like their needs are being met.”

For the first few months that Tin Nyo Win and Mi San were in the shelter, they said they were not allowed to have a phone. They couldn’t leave the shelter unaccompanied. They couldn’t work.

“If victims see that when they come forward they are kept in government shelters but not given freedom to work and move around, then what incentive do they have to come forward?” said Susan Coppedge, the U.S. anti-trafficking ambassador.

Following a supervised interview with AP at the shelter, Tin Nyo Win spoke candidly on a call. He said restrictions eased a couple of months ago, and victims can now have a phone and go outside the compound unsupervised. However, only eight people from the Gig case are still in the shelter, after 12 undocumented workers ran away. Those who remain worry they will never be compensated for unpaid wages and the abuses they suffered.

“My sister is in another shelter. She is 17 years old, and we have no chance to see each other. I’ve asked permission to see her many times, but I’m not allowed,” said Hkin Tet Mun, 31, adding that phone calls to her sibling are also prohibited. “I’m worried about her, and my sister wants to stay with me.”

Win Kai, 19, said he’s also desperate to leave, but feels trapped.

“My family is so worried about me,” he said by phone. “I don’t want to stay in the shelter. Can you help me quickly?”

Tin Nyo Win’s wife, now seven months pregnant, rubs the growing bump under her bright flowered shirt. She yearns to have the baby at home. But her husband says he won’t go — even if it means missing the birth of his child.

“We want to show the boss that we are really victims, and we want to show this to the court,” he said. “We want to see justice carried out.”

Greenpeace documents abuses in Taiwan’s tuna fisheries

An investigation into Taiwan’s distant water tuna fisheries has exposed illegal shark finning, labor and human rights abuses.

Greenpeace East Asia, which conducted the investigation, also reported on April 14 on what it called “Taiwan’s failure to adequately address issues such as murder and drug smuggling at sea.”

The Greenpeace report was released as a yellow card warning from the European Commission is about to expire. Issued on last October, the notice gave Taiwan six months to clean up its fisheries or face economic sanction by the European Union.

Greenpeace says the cleanup has not happened. “These investigations paint a comprehensive picture of an industry in crisis,” said Yen Ning, ocean campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia.

He added, “Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency appears incapable of monitoring the out-of-control tuna industry. Whether through lack of capacity or otherwise, our investigations reveal devastating impacts on marine life and people’s lives”

Taiwan owns the most tuna longline vessels in the world and Taiwan’s tuna take puts it in the top six Pacific fishing entities.

Taiwanese companies — like seafood giant Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company Ltd. — export to markets and supply some of the world’s largest seafood companies. Large amounts of Taiwanese caught tuna are exported to Thailand for processing, where serious labor and human rights violations have been recently exposed by environmental groups, human rights organizations and media outlets such as The AP.

“The fishing industries of both Taiwan and Thailand have been shown to have human rights problems,” said Yen Ning. “The murky tuna supply chains of companies like Thai Union have little transparency, which means seafood lovers everywhere may be eating tuna tainted by human exploitation and environmental crime, and they’d never know.”

The Greenpeace report details abusive treatment of crew members, including delayed and withheld wage payments, horrendous working conditions, exploitation by recruiting agents, verbal and physical abuse and death at sea.

Greenpeace asserts that the human rights abuses go hand-in-hand with environmental abuses. Fins are not allowed to be separated from shark carcasses under legislation Taiwan passed in 2012, but in a single three-month investigation in just one port in Taiwan, Greenpeace East Asia uncovered 16 illegal cases of shark finning.

Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency has proposed a new distant waters fisheries act, which Greenpeace East Asia says would be meaningless without enforcement.

On the Web

Greenpeace East Asia.

10 foods you must try in San Francisco during the Super Bowl

San Francisco is a city with serious food game, whether playing as multi-starred cuisine served in a white tablecloth hush or a simple crab cocktail eaten amid the boisterous clamor of Fisherman’s Wharf.

And with the Super Bowl heading to nearby Santa Clara, the hungry hordes hankering for a taste of the local food scene won’t be disappointed. If you’re lucky enough to be among them — whether you’re looking to dine on one of the city’s iconic standbys or venture into cutting-edge cuisine — here’s a guide to 10 foods and drinks San Francisco is famous for and where to find them.

BEER

Anchor Brewing and San Francisco have a history that goes all the way back to 1849, when German brewer Gottlieb Brekle arrived with his family. The brewery weathered earthquakes, fires and Prohibition just fine, but almost went under entirely when mid-century Americans developed a taste for mass-produced beer. In 1965, Fritz Maytag saved the place from bankruptcy, bringing back Anchor Steam Beer and writing a new chapter in suds history. You can get a first-person look at the brewery via tours available most days except holidays. The tours cost $15 per person, take about 90 minutes and conclude with a tasting. Reservations are required; you can make them here: http://www.anchorbrewing.com/brewery/tours . Another option is the 21st Amendment Brewery & Restaurant (563 2nd St.), which has a selection of house beers served with traditional pub grub.

CIOPPINO

This is the fish stew created in San Francisco by Italian fishermen in North Beach in the late 1800s. They’d toss into a pot whatever seafood was left from the day’s catch — crab, shrimp, clams, fish, etc. — along with onions, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, wine and herbs. Italian restaurants started serving the dish and soon it was part of the region’s culinary lexicon. A solid bet in North Beach is Sotto Mare (552 Green St.). Tadich Grill  (240 California St.) also is a good choice.

COFFEE

This is a fully caffeinated city with coffee shops on just about every block. For something out of the ordinary, try Ritual, a pioneer in the craft caffeine movement. The flagship location is 1026 Valencia St. in the Mission District. Blue Bottle, which began across the bay in Oakland, has a spot in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. And for coffee with that little extra kick, try the famous Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe in Fisherman’s Wharf (2765 Hyde St.).

CRAB

You can pick up a traditional crab cocktail at one of the many vendors lining Fisherman’s Wharf, http://www.fishermanswharf.org . For a different take, try it roasted and served with garlic noodles at Thanh Long (4101 Judah St.). Like your crab crispy? Get it shelled, battered and deep-fried at the R & G Lounge in Chinatown (631 Kearny St.).

STREET SCENE

For meals on wheels, check out Off the Grid, a roaming event featuring food trucks, carts, tents and live entertainment. Download the app to get information on schedules and participants. http://offthegridsf.com/

OYSTERS

Oysters on the half shell are a longstanding San Francisco tradition. For an elegant take with a great view of the Bay Bridge try Waterbar (399 The Embarcadero). Starting Jan. 30 dinner will be accompanied by a free light show with the return of the Bay Lights, a display that flashes nightly on the west span of the bridge. Also on the waterfront, Hog Island Oyster Bar in the Ferry Building.

SOURDOUGH

The region’s tradition of sourdough — bread leavened with a wild yeast starter or “mother” dough — dates back to the Gold Rush. Boudin Bakery, established in 1849 — according to bakery history the original “mother dough” was saved in a bucket during the 1906 earthquake — has a veritable shrine to sourdough at its Fisherman’s Wharf location (160 Jefferson St). It includes a museum and demonstration bakery. Another good place to try this crusty creation is Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero St.).

TEA

Whether you’re parched from purchasing Pradas and other goodies from the boutiques of Union Square or simply resting up from an afternoon of window shopping, The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus is a fun spot to enjoy the elegant refreshment of afternoon tea. Set under a stained glass dome with views of Union Square, the restaurant serves teas, starting at $45, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 2:30 to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday (150 Stockton St., Level Four). Or try the Samovar Tea Lounge at Yerba Buena Gardens (730 Howard St.). English tea service starts at $24.

TIKI

If you like Tiki bars, a stop at the Fairmont Hotel’s Tonga Room is mandatory. Set around what used to be the hotel’s indoor swimming pool, the bar features rain shows, live music and more kitsch than you can throw a tiny paper umbrella at (950 Mason St.). Another option is Smuggler’s Cove, which has more than 400 rums (650 Gough St.).

VEGETARIAN

Into veggies with a vista? Greens Restaurant is not just a vegetarian restaurant, it’s a high-end spot that has been nominated for best overall restaurant in America in the James Beard Awards and is set in historic Fort Mason Center with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands (2 Marina Blvd., Fort Mason Center Building A). You also can find bountiful produce at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Markets held Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays. http://ferrybuildingmarketplace.com/farmers_market.php For a futuristic take on food, try Eatsa (121 Spear St.). There are no waiters or cashiers here. You place your order on wall-mounted tablets, then wait for one of the illuminated cubbies lining one wall to display your name in lights, indicating your order’s ready. Eatsa specializes in quinoa-vegetable bowls in myriad combinations. All are vegetarian and some are vegan.

Did slaves peel your frozen shrimp? A guide to the issue and what to do

Enslaved migrant workers and children are ripping the heads, tails, shells and guts off shrimp at processing factories in Thailand, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

AP journalists followed and filmed trucks loaded with freshly peeled shrimp going from one peeling shed to major Thai exporting companies. Then, using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports, they tracked it globally. They also traced similar connections from another factory raided six months earlier, and interviewed more than two dozen workers from both sites.

U.S. customs records show the farmed shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Target, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden. AP reporters in all 50 states went shopping and found related brands in more than 150 stores across America.

The businesses that responded condemned the practices that lead to labor abuse, and many said they were launching investigations.

Q: How do I know if my shrimp or other seafood is tainted by labor abuses?

A: That’s a big part of the problem. Most companies do not make their supply chains public. And even if they did, there are many places for abuses to occur that are not documented or take place far from any type of scrutiny. For example, slaves have been forced to work on boats catching trash fish used for feed at shrimp farms, and migrants have been brought across borders illegally and taken straight to shrimp sheds where they are locked inside and forced to peel. Fishing boats are going farther and farther from shore, sometimes not docking for months or years at a time, creating floating prisons.

Q: What shrimp brands and companies did the AP find linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Cape Gourmet; Certifresh; Chef’s Net; Chicken of the Sea; Chico; CoCo; Darden (owner of Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze Island Grille, Seasons 52 Fresh Grill, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Yard House); Delicasea; Fancy Feast cat food; Farm Best; Fisherman’s Wharf; Winn-Dixie; Fishmarket; Great American; Great Atlantic; Great Catch; Harbor Banks; KPF; Market Basket; Master Catch; Neptune; Portico; Publix; Red Lobster; Royal Tiger; Royal White; Sea Best; Sea Queen; Stater Bros.; Supreme Choice; Tastee Choice; Wal-Mart; Waterfront Bistro; Wellness canned cat food; Whole Catch; Wholey; Xcellent.

Q: AP reporters visited supermarkets chosen at random in all 50 states. Where did they find shrimp linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Acme Markets; Albertsons; Aldi; Bi-Lo; Carrs-Safeway; Cash Wise; Crest Foods; Cub Foods; D’Agostino Supermarket; Dan’s Supermarket; Dollar General; Edwards Food Giant; Family Dollar; Foodland; Fred Meyer; Giant Eagle; Harris-Teeter; H-E-B; Hy-Vee; Jerry’s Foods; Jewel-Osco; Jons International Marketplace; Kroger; Lowes Foods; Mariano’s; Market Basket; Marsh Supermarkets; Martin’s Super Markets; McDade’s Market; Pavilions; Petco; Piggly Wiggly; Price Chopper; Publix; Ralphs; Randall’s Food Market; Redner’s Warehouse Markets; Russ’s Market; Safeway; Save Mart; Schnucks; Shaws; ShopRite; Smart & Final; Sprouts Farmers Market; Stater Bros.; Stop & Shop; Sunshine Foods; Target; Van’s Thriftway; Vons; Wal-Mart; Whole Foods; Winn-Dixie.

Q: Thailand has been in the news a lot lately with problems linked to human trafficking in its seafood industry. Why is this still an issue?

A: Thailand is one of the world’s biggest seafood exporters, and relies heavily on migrant workers from poor neighboring countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. These laborers often are misled by brokers in their home countries and illegally brought to Thailand with promises of good-paying jobs. They are then sold onto fishing boats or put into seafood processing plants where they become trapped and forced to work long hours for little or no money. Thailand has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the abuses. It has created new laws and is helping to register undocumented workers, but arrests and prosecutions are still rare.

Q: What are buyers and governments doing to try to stop slave-tainted seafood from reaching their countries?

A: The U.S. State Department has blacklisted Thailand for the past two years for its dismal human rights record, placing it among the world’s worst offenders such as North Korea and Syria. However, it has not issued sanctions. The European Union put out a “yellow card” warning earlier this year that tripled seafood import tariffs, and is expected to decide next month whether to impose an outright ban on products. Companies such as Nestle have vowed to force change after conducting their own audits and finding that their Thai suppliers were abusing and enslaving workers. Others are working with rights groups to monitor their supply chains and ensure laborers are treated fairly and humanely.

Feds agree to seafood import rules aimed at protecting whales, dolphins

The U.S. government, in a recent settlement, agreed to adopt rules ensuring seafood imported into the country meets high standards for protecting whales and dolphins

The regulations will require foreign fisheries to meet the same marine mammal protection standards required of U.S. fishers or be denied import privileges — implementing a 40-year-old provision of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“The new regulations will force other countries to step up and meet U.S. conservation standards — saving hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins from dying on hooks and in fishing nets around the world,” said Sarah Uhlemann, senior attorney and international program director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The U.S. government has finally recognized that all seafood consumed in the United States must be ‘dolphin-safe.’ ”

More than 650,000 whales, dolphins and other marine mammals are caught and killed in fishing gear each year, according to the CBD. The animals are “bycatch” of commercial fisheries and either drown outright or are tossed overboard to die.

Despite U.S. efforts to protect marine mammals in its own waters, fishing gear continues to pose the most significant threat to whale and dolphin conservation worldwide.

For example, the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, is being driven to extinction by shrimp gillnets in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Fewer than 100 vaquita remain.

Under U.S. law and the planned new regulations, shrimp from this region would be barred from entering the United States because it does not meet the more protective U.S. marine mammal protection standards. These standards may include modifying fishing gear and closing fishing in some areas to limit the risk of entanglement.

“It’s time to do what it takes to save thousands of whales and dolphins around the world and hold our fish imports to the same standards that we require of our U.S. fishermen,” said Zak Smith of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This law will help do that. It provides real, enforceable protections for marine mammals and sets up an even playing field that allows our fishermen to be competitive in the U.S. market. If we’d had these standards 40 years ago, we wouldn’t be scrambling today to save the imperiled vaquita. Thankfully, if this law is implemented, other species won’t share their fate.”

Since 1972, the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act has prohibited the United States from allowing seafood to enter the country unless it meets U.S. whale and dolphin standards. Under today’s settlement, the federal government must make a final decision by August 2016 about how to implement this requirement and end unlawful imports. The rules will protect marine mammals and level the playing field for U.S. fishers.

“The public demands and the U.S. can — and by law, must — wield its tremendous purchasing power to save dolphins and whales from foreign fishing nets,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We have the right to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is caught in ways that minimize the death and injury of marine mammals.”

Americans consume some 5 billion pounds of seafood per year, including tuna, swordfish, shrimp and cod. About 90 percent of that seafood is imported and about half is wild-caught.

The settlement was in the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York on behalf of plaintiffs Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Screaming Tuna offers sustainable seafood

Neither bluefin tuna, a sushi staple, nor the popular hamachi, a Japanese variety of amberjack, is on the menu at Screaming Tuna Sushi & Asian Bistro, 106 W. Seeboth St., in Milwaukee. Their absence is part of the restaurant owners’ effort to keep the two species, which have been severely overfished, from extinction.

The Walker’s Point restaurant is a committed participant in the growing ocean conservation movement, according to Jeff Bronstad, the restaurant’s co-owner and general manager.

“It started over a year ago with a customer who asked a lot of questions about the origin and sustainability of our seafood,” Bronstad says. “We knew where our seafood came from, but we had not given a lot of thought to sustainability, and we began to wonder why.”

In March, after nearly two years in business, Screaming Tuna formalized its commitment to seafood sustainability by becoming a partner with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, a conservation program designed to help consumers and businesses make seafood choices that will keep the oceans’ populations healthy and viable for future generations. 

Screaming Tuna is Seafood Watch’s first Wisconsin partner and one of only about a half-dozen Midwest restaurants participating in the program. To become a partner, Screaming Tuna submitted its menu to Seafood Watch for review and evaluation. The California-based group graded the menu, citing those fish that fit in the “best choice” and “good alternative” categories and pointing out those that fell into the program’s “avoid” category.

In addition to removing hamachi and bluefin tuna from the menu, Bronstad also eliminated escolar and Scottish salmon — all of which are being fished at unsustainable levels. In their place, the menu offers Hawaiian kampachi and ahi (also known as yellowfin tuna), along with Atlantic albacore tuna and Verlasso salmon from Chile. The four fish provide comparable flavor substitutes, Bronstad says.

“As far as flavors go, customers don’t seem to notice the difference,” he says. “As far as their interest goes, not everyone cares about sustainability, but those who do are happy someone is addressing it.”

Customer acceptance also has a lot to do with the talents of Jason Morimoto, 28, Screaming Tuna’s Japanese-Puerto Rican head chef. He brings his entire ethnic heritage into play in creating the restaurant’s creative fusion menu.

In addition to 25 varieties of sushi and more than 40 rolls, Morimoto also prepares dishes as diverse as a tuna pizza, topped with pico de gallo and served on a grilled crust, and crab chipotle wontons. The menu also features filet mignon, stuffed pork tenderloin and Thai curry chicken. 

In April, Morimoto served a four-course “smoked dinner” that included smoked oysters, shishitos (Japanese sweet peppers) and cheese, sushi rice with Spanish influence, and smoked chocolate ganache with dried berries.

Morimoto is also known for his Underground Omakase dinners that feature a surprise variety of sushi and other sample-size dishes. Omakase, which functionally translates to “chef’s choice,” is a popular alternative among New York sushi restaurants, but it’s rare in the Midwest.

Bronstad says that everyone can learn to make sustainable seafood choices.

“The best thing consumers can do is to educate themselves about what they’re eating,” he explains. “As purveyors, we should help educate our customers, who make the ultimate decision on what’s popular and what they’re going eat.”

Those decisions will help determine what seafood will be available for generations to come.

ON THE TABLE

Screaming Tuna Sushi & Asian Bistro

106 W. Seeboth St., Milwaukee

Phone: 414-763-1637

On the Web: Screamingtuna.com

Can U.S. reduce invasive species by eating them?

It seems like a simple proposition: American lakes, rivers and offshore waters are filling up with destructive fish and crustaceans originally from other parts of the world, many of them potential sources of food.

So why not control these invasive populations by getting people to eat them?

The idea has gained momentum recently from the lionfish, which invaded the Gulf of Mexico but was successfully marketed to restaurants and today appears to be in decline.

But businesses and scientists have struggled to repeat this apparent triumph with other species. Some, such as Asian carp, are not appetizing to Americans. Others, like feral hogs, reproduce too quickly to make a dent. And then there’s the question of whether turning them into sought-after cuisine undermines the larger goal of eliminating them.

“Eating invasive species is not a silver bullet,” said Laura Huffman, the Nature Conservancy’s director in Texas. But it can still be “a way to get people engaged in the topic and in the solution.”

The lionfish, a striped saltwater species with a flowing mane of venomous spines, is native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean and was first spotted in parts of the Gulf and off the East Coast a little more than 10 years ago. The skilled predators damage reefs and devour native fish, and they are eaten only by sharks – or larger lionfish.

People soon learned that beneath the lionfish’s spiky skin lies a buttery, flaky meat that is perfect for ceviche, taco filler or as an alternative to lobster. After a few years of intense fishing and brisk fillet sales, the population is dropping.

But similar efforts targeting feral hogs, Asian carp and the Himalayan blackberry have been far less successful.

Damage from invasive species extends beyond the environment. A Cornell University study concluded that they caused more than $120 billion in economic harm annually. Feral hogs cost Texas alone about $52 million in agricultural damage every year, according to a study by Texas A&M University.

Asian carp were introduced to the United States about 30 years ago. Now they have infested dozens of waterways, including the Mississippi. The Army Corps of Engineers is weighing several options to try to keep the voracious eaters out of the Great Lakes, where they could threaten other marine life and the fishing industry.

In China, the carp are a delicacy and even threatened in the Yangtze River. But they have attracted little interest among U.S. consumers, and the few Americans who make a living on carp export most of their catch.

“The fish are good eating if they’re healthy, which they’re not always,” said Duane Chapman, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Columbia, Missouri, noting this is an issue in the Missouri River. “Here the fish are pretty much not edible because they’re so skinny.”

In Chicago, a group started to feed the fish to the homeless, an attempt to deal with hunger and help combat the invasive fish problem. A southern Illinois company had hoped to start packaging frozen Asian carp. And Kentucky organized a commercial fishing tournament to encourage anglers to go after them.

But none of those efforts was enough to stir demand for the creatures.

Another obstacle is concern that a successful carp industry could derail the original goal of getting rid of the fish.

“We’d all be better off in terms of economics if we could sell our native fish,” Chapman said.

The lionfish and the giant tiger prawn, a crustacean with a massive appetite that can grow to be a foot long, proved to be more palatable, Chapman said.

The tiger prawn has been found in the northern Gulf of Mexico, where scientists fear it could harm the multimillion-dollar crab, shrimp and oyster markets.

Like the lionfish, this prawn has been successfully turned into gourmet food, because it is similar to shrimp, Huffman said.

Similar practicalities can affect invasive plants. The Himalayan blackberry is known for crowding out other shrubs and reducing the size of pastures. Although it is delicious, it’s also thorny and requires time-consuming hand picking that makes large-scale harvesting difficult.

Feral hogs can also be tasty, but they reproduce so quickly that hunting doesn’t make a dent in the population.

Jean-Philippe Gaston, chef at Haven and Cove Restaurant in Houston, started serving lionfish because he wanted to help reduce its population in the Gulf. Now the taste alone keeps it on the menu.

“It’s light and airy and fluffy,” said Gaston, who especially likes to use lionfish in ceviche and other raw-fish dishes because it blends well with spices and marinades. “People are scared of fishy fish. This one in particular is very mild, very easy going on the palette.”

But lionfish are hard to catch, and the dwindling population means Gaston and other restaurateurs have not been able to get any for weeks.

For now, the fish are individually speared and can be sold for about $16 a pound, said David Johnson, founder and owner of Traditional Fisheries, one of the few U.S. lionfish suppliers. Yet Johnson said he can’t keep up with demand, especially since many Mexican restaurants replace the crustacean with lionfish during lobster’s offseason.

In fact, an event at the Texas State Aquarium had to be cancelled last month when organizers couldn’t find enough lionfish for the 100-person dinner.

So Johnson, who lives in Wayzata, Minnesota, is designing a “smart trap” that would allow fishermen to catch lionfish en masse without netting other species. He hopes the traps will be in use by year’s end.

“Locally, we’ve proven that it does work,” Johnson said of the effort to turn lionfish into a delectable dish. “In Cozumel, for example, we’re having trouble finding lionfish because they’ve fished so many.”

Environmental group sues over cruise ships’ sewage discharges

An environmental group is suing in federal court seeking better regulation of cruise ships and the sewage they dump into the ocean.

Friends of the Earth, represented by Earthjustice, want more effective regulation of the industry, said to dump more than a billion gallons of sewage — much of it poorly treated — into the ocean last year.

The group also is seeking better regulation of the sewage discharged from cargo ships and oil tankers.

Friends of the Earth said in a news release on May 1 that the sewage from the ships pollutes beaches, contaminates coral reefs and destroys marine ecology.

Sewage contamination also puts swimmers at elevated risk of illness and can make seafood caught by coastal fishermen unsafe to eat.

Also, discharges from ships disrupt coastal economies.

In 2012, ship sewage contributed to elevated levels of fecal coliform that led to more than 31,000 days of beach advisories and closings.

“Sewage-contaminated waters not only harm sea life, but also harm people who use these waters,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director at Friends of the Earth. “These ship sewage discharges contribute to the risk of serious, potentially life-threatening health effects such as gastrointestinal illnesses, hepatitis, ear nose and throat illnesses, vomiting, and respiratory diseases. The EPA reported in 2000 that its ship sewage treatment standards were out of date and needed an update. After 38 years, it is time for EPA to act.”

Sewage discharge close to shore has been banned in the New England area but not in the Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico or the Southeast.

Several years ago, the Friends of the Earth petitioned the EPA and asked that it update its 1976 performance standards and pollution limits for onboard marine sanitation devices — the systems used to treat sewage on ships.

The EPA has not proposed any changes.

A report in 2013 from the group indicated that Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Cunard and Seabourn Cruise Line have installed advanced sewage treatment systems in a majority of their ships, while Carnival, Silversea, Costa and Crystal Cruises received failing grades in the review.