GETTIN’ GRILLED: Red Lobster moves to emphasize fresh fish.
Granted, purchasing protocols for seafood are already more complex than for any other item on your menu. Not only do you have to decide what species to buy and how much of it to get. You’re also supposed to stay away from species known to be overfished, as well as those that are abundant, but fished for or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment. Outfits like Seafood Choices Alliance give you guidance, but even those who want to do what is purportedly the right thing struggle to figure out exactly what it is.
For now, you at least have options to choose from. But a new report from the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis paints a dim picture of seafood’s future.
“Twenty-nine percent of fish and seafood species have collapsed—that is, their catch has declined by 90 percent. It is a very clear trend and it is accelerating,” said lead author Boris Worm, a professor at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. “If the long-term trend continues, all fish and seafood species are projected to collapse within my lifetime—by 2048.”
Note that the international panel of ecologists, marine scientists and economists who produced this report aren’t in the advocacy business. But after spending four years analyzing a mass of data, they were “shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are—beyond anything we suspected,” the group noted.
These experts did offer a ray of hope. Their report noted that where marine reserves have already been established— there are now 48 of them around the world—“diversity of species recovered dramatically, and with it the ecosystem’s productivity and stability.”
U.S. trade group the National Fisheries Institute wasn’t buying these findings. “Fish stocks naturally fluctuate in population,” the NFI says. “By developing new technologies that capture target species more efficiently and result in less impact on other species or the environment, we are helping to ensure our industry does not adversely affect surrounding ecosystems or damage native species.”
OK, so what should you order next week? At least we know that full-service patrons want to eat fish. To meet that demand, the 680-unit Red Lobster chain has rolled out a new fresh fish program that offers six fresh fish that can be prepared one of four different ways, none of them involving deep frying. Also going on the menu are three “chef’s creations dishes,” such as grilled fresh grouper rubbed with basil oil and topped with langostino lobster in an Alfredo sauce.
Why should you pay attention to what Red Lobster does? Thanks to massive feedback from its own and other Darden customers, it knows a lot about what full-service customers want. They’re not demanding sustainable species per se—yet. But they do want their fish fresh and prepared the way they want it. Let’s hope the supply holds out like NFI promises.