This week I met up with fishmonger and fellow Gastronomy student Noel Bielaczyc at his place of work, New Deal Fish Market (622 Cambridge St). Noel gave me the inside scoop on sustainable aquaculture, and also expanded my knowledge on the different varieties of fish available. Check out the interview below…
Kelly: How did you first get interested in seafood and aquaculture?
Noel: When I moved to Ann Arbor for college, I saw a fish market and I knew I wanted to work there. I love fishing and the water, so it’s a natural mix of interests.
K: Can you tell me a bit about organic seafood certification and how valuable that is?
N: I’m kind of skeptical about the organic seafood label. It only applies to farm raised fish and just means that plant portion of their feed (soybeans, corn, etc.) was organically raised. But fish like salmon are primarily carnivores, so how can you say that the fishmeal (wild anchovies, sardines, etc.) component of their diet is organic? This label only makes sense for fish that can be raised on an entirely vegetarian diet, like tilapia and catfish. Your best bet is to look for wild, domestic seafood.
K: Can fish be farmed sustainably, and if so, how would we know?
N: I have heard of a few cases of fish being farmed sustainably, but that is not the majority of the farmed fish on the market. It can be done well, but it’s not enough to feed the world. Because salmon are carnivores, you must catch fish to grow fish, which leads to a net loss. [Salmon farms] are not really doing anything to increase supply.
K: How can consumers help support a sustainable aquaculture system?
N: If the only fish you eat are shrimp, cod, and salmon, you’re missing the point. If you want to be a responsible seafood consumer, you’ve got to branch out. Additionally, shellfish is some of the best stuff you can get. Shellfish aquaculture (like clams, mussels, or oysters) is almost like planting seeds, and it’s not nearly as intensive as salmon farming.
K: A February 2013 New York Times article reported that approximately 1/3 of the fish on the market are mislabeled. How can consumers avoid getting duped? Is there anything that should raise red flags?
N: You are most likely to run into that [deception] at a restaurant, because there’s less seafood expertise, the supply chain is longer, and there’s lots of pressure to control costs. If you are eating an $8.99 platter of scallops, snapper, and haddock, there’s a good chance it might not be what you think it is. [In order to avoid getting duped,] find a fish market you trust and fishmongers you can develop a relationship with. Over 80% of our seafood is imported, so one of the safest things you can do is buy domestic seafood whenever possible.
K: Do you know of any restaurants in Boston that source fish responsibly?
N: Bergamont gets their fish from us, and they do a really great job. East by Northeast buys from us as well. I’m sure Legal Seafoods is doing something right, but I’m not really sure what their practices are. Smaller, independent places are going to be your best bet.
K: Many home cooks are intimidated by the prospect of cooking fish. Any tips?
N: The most important thing to remember is that it’s actually quicker than cooking almost anything else. Let your fishmonger do the dirty work (scaling, gutting, filleting…)! My favorite way to eat fish in the summer is actually raw. Just throw together some dry scallops, good olive oil, onions, and grapefruit juice, and you’ve got yourself a beautiful crudo. If you are unsure about which fish can be eaten raw, you have to ask, and not all fish markets are like that.
Looking for the best catch in Boston? Then visit the team at New Deal Seafood! Noel helped me pick out some excellent Striped Bass from right here in Massachusetts. Do you have a favorite type of seafood to cook? Do tell!