“It’s not about wild or farmed…it’s about wild and farmed…I am proud to champion aquaculture because it is the future,” – Ned Bell executive chef with Ocean Wise and founder of Chefs for Oceans.
When it comes to seafood, not every chef can agree on the F word. But most know that fish farming is the front line in the fight for global food security, better public health and improving the livelihoods in coastal communities, a gathering of seafood experts heard in Vancouver this week.
Leading the charge on that front line are chefs, who need to change the narrative about aquaculture said Ned Bell executive chef with Ocean Wise and founder of Chefs for Oceans
Bell organized Chefs for Oceans ‘Fish Talk’ #Aquaculture101 in collaboration with the Ocean Wise Seafood Program, the Chefs Table Society and BC Chefs Association, which was held at the Vancouver Club this week.
“It came together after about 50 chefs locally put their names to a letter to pressure the aquaculture industry…I withdrew my name from the letter, because I felt it was more harmful than productive.
“This was an opportunity for them to understand and learn about the industry…they had publicly dug their heels into something that actually deserves a bigger conversation,” said Bell.
But the room was packed with about 150 chefs, seafood industry types, government representatives and scientists, all eager to learn how sustainable aquaculture can help feed the world.
“It’s not about wild or farmed…it’s about wild and farmed…I am proud to champion aquaculture because it is the future,” said Bell, who reached into his own pocket to organize the gathering.
Chef Rick Moonen, one of America’s top advocate for sustainable seafood said he was at one time vehemently opposed to aquaculture.
“I went out to learn about the industry and I know so much more…Our guests come to our restaurants because they trust us and that is an incredible bond.
“We as chefs need to break down the barrier that all fish farming is bad and support those doing a good job of farming the oceans, to do a better job,” he said.
Barton Seaver, director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative Center at Harvard’s School of Public Health said chefs should help create a social licence for aquaculture.
“We must move from a don’t harm the ocean approach to what we can do to enhance the ocean approach.
“If you don’t like the F word as in farmed call it public health, jobs for women, community building or anything else because that’s what aquaculture does,” he said.
Like Moonen, Seaver who was also opposed to aquaculture in his early career as a chef, urged the attendees to help change the narrative by learning more about harvesting the oceans sustainably.
“We love the land for our presence but we love the sea for our absence…we have to change that narrative,” he said.
Scott Nichols, the founder of Food’s Future told the gathering that the world seems to be okay with terrestrial agriculture that tears up the environment while being opposed to aquaculture that works in the environment.
“There is a preponderance of evidence from world bodies on the health benefits of eating fish,” he said referring to a Harvard School of Public Health meta study, in which scientists found that fish consumption “reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent”.
This aggregates to some 266,000 lives saved annually in the U.S., he said
“Most of our wild fisheries are harvested either at or above their sustainable limit so we need to reduce the amount of fish we capture…at the same time we need to eat more fish.
“It’s clear that if we are going to continue to eat fish, we need to farm them like everything else we eat,” said Nichols.
Terry Brooks, a former commercial fisherman who now farms sable fish and Coho salmon in B.C. said aquaculture today is not what it was 30 years ago.
“Chefs need to go out and learn about farmed fish so their customers get educated on what aquaculture really is,” he said.
“While climate change will pose some significant challenges for some stocks of Pacific salmon, many salmon stocks in British Columbia are healthy and will remain so in the foreseeable future,” he said.
“Wild salmon and farmed salmon can co-exist and they will be important components of our seafood sector in British Columbia now and in the future.”
Li told the gathering not to rely on the sensational media headlines about fish farming.
“There are many reasons for the decline of our wild salmon stocks…we don’t know for sure the impact of fish farms on wild fish…our job is to present all the facts that are available so that people can make an educated choice.”