Gabe the Fish Babe: Fresh Off the Day Boat
By: Gabrielle Stommel, April 13, 2012
Gabe the Fish Babe - An inspired seafood blogger and a young fishmonger of fresh, day-boat New England species, this modern-day mermaid comes from a long line of seafaring Cape Codders. In this column, Gabe encourages readers to expand their minds and mouths to local, abundant, underutilized seafood - and hopes to bring awareness to a creature on the brink of extinction: the American commercial fisherman.
You may not know it, but a revolution of sorts is brewing within an industry that has been battered stiffer than a piece of fried haddock.
Fishermen are now working in conjunction with some fish dealers who can offer traceability on their seafood, and customers are catching on. People want to know where their seafood comes from, right down to the boat and the captain who caught it.
These local day boat fishermen—the ones that I like to buy from—are as diverse as the innumerable species of fish that they continue to pull out of local waters, seafood that most people never knew existed in New England.
So far this year I have seen live green sea urchins, moon snails, whelks, sea robins and ling cod. Not only are these underutilized species abundant and inexpensive, they taste great too! Ask some of my chef customers in New York City and they will heartily agree. But you don't have to start with the weird stuff—any fresh, local, wild fish is tasty and good for you, too.
Not all fish created equal
We’ve all heard about the health benefits of eating seafood in order to protect our minds and bodies. But we’ve also heard revelations in Boston and other US cities about widespread mislabeling and misrepresentation of seafood in fish markets and restaurants.
This video special from the Boston Globe explains that seafood is the least regulated food source covered by the FDA! Mislabeling of species is bad for consumers because they are inadvertently buying fish that could be endangered, over-fished, or shipped in from foreign fish farms with very little scrutiny in their farming practices.
Some dealers don’t know what’s coming to them, but others are directly involved in some real fishy business. They would rather buy a frozen Peruvian squid at less than half the price of true Rhode Island or Cape Cod squid, then slack it out (defrost the squid to a “refreshed state”) and pawn it off to customers as the real local deal.
Does this sound crazy to you? It should.
Know your dealer
Even more devastating are the effects that mislabeled fish have on New England fishermen. How can a local fisherman compete with this influx of cheap, foreign fish on the market?
Add the rising price of fuel and strict, often ridiculous regulations to the equation and it becomes clear why American fishermen are becoming endangered.
Today I met a quahog bullraker from Bristol, Rhode Island who said to me, “Just when you think you figured the fishing game out, you realize you are back where you started.”
Buyer beware, the next tentacle you eat may have been last wrapped around a piece of coral off Easter Island, not Martha’s Vineyard.
If you want to avoid this kind of mishap I recommend staying informed, eating local and buying fresh seafood from a dealer you trust.