If you have an apple tree in your backyard producing the most luscious, peak-season fruit, would you buy imported apples that have been handled countless times and shipped halfway across the world?
This is the logic Louisiana chefs and fishermen apply to the abundant supply of fresh seafood provided by the Gulf – a resource so rich, it supplies the United States with more than 65 percent of the country’s domestic finfish. When you’ve got the best in your backyard, buying imported seafood makes no sense.
For Tenney Flynn, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of premier seafood restaurant GW Fins in New Orleans, serving Louisiana seafood is common sense.
“For the most part, we’re managing our fisheries well in the Gulf,” says Flynn. “The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is getting better at population assessments and setting catch limits on fish like snapper and certain types of grouper. Everybody is interested in making sure we have a healthy stock.
“The same can’t be said for imported seafood,” says Flynn, noting that transparency in the overseas seafood industry and fishing practices in international waters are a concern. “Everyone should be concerned with the amount of imported seafood we get. We don’t know the conditions imported seafood is raised or caught under.”
Flynn recently conducted a finfish butchering demonstration for the Chefs Collaborative National Summit in New Orleans, which gathered food safety experts, scientists and chefs interested in sustainable, local foodways. The primary purpose of the demonstration: to introduce visiting chefs and sustainability advocates to several species of underused, sustainably caught Louisiana finfish, including sheephead and drum.
Although the two species of fish are well known in Louisiana and abundant in our coastal waters, the fish doesn’t find its way to many restaurants or dinner plates out of state, Flynn says. Rather than using imported seafood or chasing after smaller supplies of mainstream fish like tuna or salmon, sheephead and drum are an ideal – and sustainable – alternative.
“A supplier might have 4,000 pounds of drum, but only a few hundred pounds of tuna or salmon,” says Flynn, who gets a daily rundown of fresh seafood from his trusted seafood purveyors because his menu changes daily to reflect the best of what’s available. “We have huge amounts of these fish available, it’s inexpensive, and it’s delicious. There’s no reason why we can’t introduce the fish elsewhere. People are better off sourcing Louisiana seafood than imported seafood.”