As well as providing sustainable seafood direct to local doorsteps, Chris Hanselman of Pacific Rich Resources shares his oceanic expertise in blogs with subjects such as underloved fish – what to buy, how to cook – only buying fish that’s in season, altering fishing quotas, aquaculture and much more.
We were keen to tap into his wealth of knowledge on this complicated subject.
Chris, how is climate change affecting sustainable seafood?
The bottom line is that climate change is occurring, and it is affecting the sustainability of seafood. One effect is simple. Because of the slight increase in water temperature, shellfish are more prone to disease. An example was a whole season of oysters been wiped out in Mexico, due to the onset of an innate virus, which came to life because of the warmth.
Two other complementary examples are a) the movement of Atlantic cod further north, as they prefer colder waters to spawn, and b) at the same time, wild-caught salmon on the West Coast are moving further south, due to plentiful food being available in warmer waters.
So changes in climate are affecting the fish life cycles and growth, and then of course fishermen need to move and fish greater distances to catch.
Is the flavour of the fish being affected?
I don’t think there is much change in the flavour of the fish per se due to this. But, of course, there will be ramifications. If the waters are warmer, the fish could grow more quickly. This means softer meat. If they have to swim further, then they will have more oily meat. Because they are eating alternate diets, their taste will change, but I would suggest not to a noticeable extent.
How are these changes affecting what we see in the supermarket?
At the moment, there is no change, as the supermarkets purchase on price and products that are caught and then frozen, so they are available all through the year. What we need to do is drive them to change and supply seasonal seafood. Firstly, it is a sustainability initiative, and secondly, it means that you are getting the best fish at the best time of year. But we the consumer must push for this. The supermarkets will not change.
How are the prices of sustainable fish changing?
There is a belief in the market that sustainable-accredited seafood is more expensive. It is not. Most producers in the world realise that they must produce seafood with suitable accreditation, so the major markets in the world – Europe and the USA/Canada – demand it. So it is the norm. If there is a substantial price increase, it is because the supermarkets are seeing an opportunity to inflate prices. It’s a bit like paying more for organic beef or grain fed. It is just a marketing technique. But the cost price is fundamentally the same.
If there is a substantial price increase, it is because the supermarkets are seeing an opportunity to inflate prices.
What are your thoughts on RFID technology and gill tagging on individual fish to know exactly where they come from?
I think this is fine with some farmed fish, but for wild caught, it is a little excessive – well intended but excessive. If the accreditation and audit system for fisheries and people in the supply chain are done correctly, that should be enough. If RFID was fully implemented, that would be a huge cost increase, the processors would balk and the sales price would definitely have to increase – a step too far at this stage I think.
Are there any new developments in the sustainable seafood world or anecdotes you can share?
It’s a very sensitive area, and one has to pick one’s fights. Salmon in Canada is a hot topic at the moment. Did you know that sockeye salmon only really run (migrate to rivers to spawn) every four years, the next one being in 2022? Hence the need for aquaculture. The issues are: what should be farmed, where and how.
In Hong Kong, my frustration is the attitude of the supermarkets. They really should lead and be educators. I believe strongly that people want to make a difference, but we must have a proper plan.
Are there types of fish that people hadn’t previously been interested in that are going to become bigger sellers in the future because of the lack of availability of previous favourites?
There aren’t really any new wild-caught fish, but when we talk about seasonal catches, there are also by-catch fish that were previously labelled “trash fish”. I prefer to call them “underloved fish”. Some of these include Atlantic butterfish with white, flaky, oily meat, which gets caught alongside squid. Dogfish, also known as rock salmon or rock cod in Europe, is good for fish and chips.
Ground feeders get a bad rap, but given the popularity of halibut, which can be a bit pricey in Hong Kong, look for grey sole, Torbay sole, yellowtail flounder or American plaice. Pacific grenadier is a by-catch of black cod and tastes like tilapia, with better flavour and texture.
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