Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Live fish markets, sustainability, and almost-local seafood

What is gained by staring a fish in the eye before eating it? China's live fish markets are a great place to ask this question.

My answer? Shopping this way brings the fish closer, so that imported food becomes "almost local." It's a good thing.

Walking through Qingdao's restaurant district I found row after row of live fish in tanks, ready for diners to order and eat. Not only fish, of course, there were also lots of sea cucumbers, clams, lobsters, etc. Some from nearby, no doubt, but many brought from some distance. Like the freshwater-farmed carp not widely grown in the area near this seaside city.

The tanks are small, and there's no way to see these animals as living peacefully in a native pond. But there is a definite sense of of visiting with a fish in the water when shopping for dinner. There's something about a live animal that transcends the particulars of the time and place of contact.

Live fish markets tunnel through distance and unknown supply chains and make fish seem local even if they come from far away.

A live fish market isn't the only way to do this, traceable and transparent supply chains have some of the same benefit. Buy a red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico's Gulf Wild program, and you can bring the fish closer with a few clicks. Enter the fish tag number on the Gulf Wild website and you'll look eye-to-eye with the fisherman who caught it and see a spot on the map where the fish was caught. This is another good approch for making your Mississippi red snapper an "almost local" fish in Idaho. Why not? It's better fish for the land-locked.

And before you think this only happens in China or Chinatown, here's Joe Tess Live Fish Market in Omaha, Nebraska, proudly featuring carp since the 1930's, some in live tanks, and serving up a ton of carp a week. "We're going fishin' cause we're going to Joe Tess."

Watch the video below, and see middle Americans talk about how Joe Tess brings fish closer to customers, giving them fish that "tastes like it's just out of the water."


Anonymous said...

Interesting point, though some might find it creepy looking your dinner in the eye and knowing you personally will be responsible for its death.

Also, what are the statistics on wastage: how many fish die en route from fishery to market place trying to serve this live fish restaurant trade? Are those wasted or used?

Bonefish said...

Well They are overfished everywhere they live, which is all the world's temperate oceans great unit to get you started.

Anonymous said...

The live fish fishery is one of the most destructive fisheries anywhere. They deplete local slow growth resident species--that fishery is ultimately responsible for the need to put MPA's along the California coast- The entire live fish fishery should be illegal!


(loves the sea)