Fish, Fish Everywhere
Sensibly selecting seafood assures tomorrow’s waters still brim
The abundance of seafood has been a culinary hallmark of Virginia since people began cooking here. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, folks have long noted the variety and quality of local marine life. Captain Christopher Newport wrote in 1607:
The main river [James] abounds with sturgeon, very large and excellent good, having also at the mouth of every brook and in every creek both store and exceedingly good fish of divers kinds. in the large sounds near the sea are multitudes of fish, banks of oysters, and many great crabs rather better, in fact, than ours and able to suffice four men.
And in 1612, Captain John Smith recorded in his diary:
Of fish we were best acquainted with sturgeon, grampus, porpoise, seals, stingrays whose tails are very dangerous, brits, mullets, white salmon [rockfish], eels, lampreys, catfish, shad, perch of three sorts, crabs, shrimps, crevises, oysters, cockles, and mussels.
The harvesting and processing of seafood in Virginia is one of the oldest industries in the United States and one of the state’s largest; the Virginia Institute of Marine Science reports the annual economic impact to be more than a half billion dollars.
Virginia commercial watermen annually harvest enough seafood to produce more than 1.2 million meals, according to the Virginia Marine Products Board. Some 620,000 acres of water are harvested for more than 50 commercially valuable species including traditional offerings of blue crabs, clams, croaker, sea scallops, spot, striped bass (rockfish) and summer flounder.
Nontraditional products, largely caught for sale to international markets, include Chesapeake ray, conch, eel and monkfish.
To help keep Virginia seafood sustainable, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach coordinates the Sensible Seafood program. Affiliated with the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, the program offers guidelines for best choices of seafood based on a number of factors such as whether the catch is fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways, if it contains contaminants, and so on.
An advisory panel produces the annual “best choices” list, which is available on the aquarium’s website. Species that are abundant, well managed, and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways are put on a green list.
A yellow list features good alternatives when items from the green list are not available, although with some cautions.
A red list features species that are either over-fished or caught or farmed in ways that may harm other sea life or the environment. Restaurants, retailers, and groups that are partner members of the Sensible Seafood program pledge to use items from the best-choice list whenever possible.
The aquarium also hosts the Sensible Seafood Fest each spring, which celebrates foods prepared with regionally sourced, sustainable ingredients from around two dozen of the facility’s Sensible Seafood partner restaurants paired with local beer and wine.
Deep Sea Dialogue
The Educator: Karen Burns
“I am an education specialist for Bay & Ocean Literacy and the Sensible Seafood Program manager at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. My primary responsibilities are creating and implementing programs for the public.
“As the Sensible Seafood Program manager I work with my team in building relationships, creating materials and crafting events that entice people to learn more about sustainable seafood. We have a Sensible Seafood Advisory Panel as well, and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program helps identify sensible seafood choices in Virginia.
“Seafood is fast finding its rightful place, front and center, at dinner tables across the country. When we look at the history of food in North America, going back to the First Americans, seafood has always been a mainstay. Seafood has generally been an abundant, easily accessed resource.
“What’s disturbing is the dominance on our plates of just a handful of species and the knowledge that many species are in decline. It’s critical for people to really begin to acknowledge that their actions and choices make a real impact on the future of our ocean.
“Consumers, restaurants and seafood businesses can work together to ensure that today’s sensible choices will be available on tomorrow’s seafood menus.”
717 General Booth Blvd., Virginia Beach
Mark Your Calendars for Sensible Seafood
The fifth Sensible Seafood Fest at the Virginia Aquarium will take place May 22.
The event celebrates foods prepared with regionally-sourced, sustainable ingredients from around two dozen of the facility’s Sensible Seafood partner restaurants; a full list of partner restaurants is on the Aquarium’s website.
There is lots of food to sample, and a people’s choice award.
The Virginia Aquarium
717 General Booth Blvd.,
Deep Sea Dialogue
The Restauranteur: Mike Standing
“I am operator of Waterman’s Surfside Grille, Waterman’s Sport Fishing, director of the Mid-Atlantic Rockfish Shootout, and a handful of other things. Most everything I do is related to seafood/fishing, so being part of a sustainable seafood program is a must.
“Sustainable, eco-friendly seafood comes from fisheries and farms that have healthy populations and are harvested in an environmentally friendly way that can continue to produce into the future without negative impact on their populations or natural ecosystems.
“Virginia has one of the most challenging fisheries to maintain in the country due to the Chesapeake Bay and it’s tributaries that meet the ocean.
“Please consider choosing from a list (of sustainable seafood) and making a difference. More and more restaurants are becoming part of the solution, but the consumer is who will make the difference in the end. Ask for sustainable seafood in restaurants and seafood markets.”
Waterman’s Surfside Grille
415 Atlantic Ave.,
Roasted Lynnhaven Oysters with Smoldering Fuse Dipping Sauce
2 cups melted butter
1⁄2 cup hot sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 dozen Lynnhaven or other Virginia oysters, scrubbed and rinsed
Whisk the butter, hot sauce, lemon juice, and pepper together in a medium bowl until combined. Set aside.
Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high. Place the oysters, flat side up, on the grill and grill for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the shells open at least a quarter-inch.
Remove the oysters from the grill with tongs and, with a gloved hand, open the shells with an oyster knife, being careful not to spill any juices. Discard the empty top shell and slide the oyster knife under the meat to release; arrange the oysters on a serving plate. Serve immediately with sauce for dipping.
Note: when cleaning oysters, discard any with open shells.
From my book Dishing Up Virginia
Deep Sea Dialogue
The Oysterman: Chris Ludford
“I am responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Ludford Brothers Oyster Company farm (on the Lynnhaven Inlet). This will mark my 20th year in the seafood business. I primarily relied on hard crab potting until 2008 when the collapse of the stock forced me to leave that fishery. I got into growing oysters to give me more control of the quality of the product. I love being self-employed and working outdoors on the water.
“The state of seafood in this country is overall better than it has been in 10 years. Many of the fishery management plans enacted in the 80s and 90s are bearing fruit. The dark spot continues to be water quality and the environment. The watermen have been bearing the brunt of fisheries management for too long.
“Consumers need to support sustainable seafood because it closes the loop on conservation and rebuilding practices that start with regulators and fishermen. Consumers buying unsustainable seafood creates a demand that encourages fishermen continuing to fish in ways that deplete stocks at rates difficult to rebuild. The public should want to do their part to sustain healthy seafood harvest.”
Ludford Brothers Oyster Company
(marketed as Pleasure House Oysters)