By Claire Layrisson
In Hawaii, fishermen are encouraged to diminish waste by keeping and properly handling all of the fish they catch in the hopes that one man’s by-catch — the non-targeted species unintentionally caught during fishing — is another man’s dinner.
It’s just one example of how Hawaiian fishermen, scientists and managers have learned to work together to create and maintain fishing practices that are renewable, compliant with international regulations, and produce excellent fish quality.
They’ve also managed to convince auction purchasers and consumers of the sustainability of their seafood – and that the measures they are taking to protect their stocks and the environment are worth the additional cost.
Even before the BP oil spill, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board recognized the value of bringing such practices to its local seafood industry, and were reaching out to other states, such as Hawaii, to learn about successful practices that could be adopted here.
With an international spotlight now focused on Gulf seafood, the trinity of sustainability, quality and traceability are more important than ever, especially as Louisiana prepares to roll out a new certification program for its wild-caught shrimp.
Hawaii’s fisheries have developed strong ideals of responsibility and sustainability, and are an obvious choice for role models. Dr. Jon Bell, a food scientist at LSU’s AgCenter who is working on the wild shrimp certification program, and Rene LeBreton, assistant executive director of the Seafood Board, traveled to the Aloha state recently to get a firsthand look at its practices in action.
Innovative PioneersAs Bell explains, “By-catch fish can become important or even target species. This interest in trying to get vessels to keep everything they get must be market-driven, and has become so for the Hawaii longline fishery.”
Although Hawaii’s fishing methods differ from Louisiana’s, LeBreton found corroboration there for an integral tenet of the local wild shrimp program — “if you increase the quality, the price is going to follow.”
For example, innovative Hawaiian fishermen began gutting and gilling fish immediately after landing to improve quality, even though their fish weighed less when sold per pound. In short time, buyers on the auction block recognized the improvement, ultimately yielding an even better price per pound. Now the gutting and gilling process, while completely voluntary, has become the customary handling practice.
Lance Nacio, a Louisiana shrimper known for his superior shrimp and handling processes, is a pioneer whose methods are being utilized as one model in the wild shrimp certification. “They set the standards pretty high and we already meet all the standards,” says Nacio, who has worked closely with Bell and others on the program.
Reducing by-catch is an aspiration for all fishermen and especially for shrimpers, as added weight, along with poking stingrays and pinching crabs, can mash and degrade the catch. Nacio has worked hard on by-catch reduction. His first course of action is to trawl where the shrimp are clean, meaning there is little by-catch to interfere at all. He also uses a turtle excluder device (TED) and nets with big mesh webbing.
Nacio’s state-of-the-art equipment includes an onboard flash freezer as well, allowing him to sort, process and package his shrimp right on his boat. Gear like his carries a high-dollar tag, but so does the shrimp, which bring in an additional dollar wholesale and two dollars retail per pound. He also provides an eco-label of sorts by marking all his catch.
And Then There’s the Taste …
“The shrimp feed on natural foods in the estuaries with an influx of fresh water from where the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya rivers meet the Gulf of Mexico. It produces a brackish water that the shrimp grow in,” says Nacio. “They actually have a sweet flavor.”
There’s simply no comparison to farmed or lesser-quality imports. An expanding niche market recognizes the finer catch, and it’s these discriminating foodies who will appreciate Louisiana certified wild shrimp.
“If you highlight innovators, people will invest in better equipment,” believes LeBreton. An increased price should be incentive for more shrimpers to upgrade their ways and wares, thereby producing ever more spectacular local shrimp – a goal of the wild shrimp certification program.
When the conditions of sustainability, quality, and traceability are met, the marketing can take over. “Chefs love the story behind the seafood, the fact that they know it’s caught in a certain area or even boat,” says Bell. “It’s something a waiter can promote as special. The story adds to the value.”
From trawl to table, it’s becoming worthwhile to reduce waste and improve taste.