Green Fish Blue Oceans

the podcast where stories about seafood are good for you and the oceans

Tag: sustainable fisheries

E is For Escolar And Ecosystems

Sylvia Earle El Toro Marine Reserve (c)kipEvans for Mission Blue

Sylvia Earle El Toro Marine Reserve (c)kipEvans for Mission Blue

On today’s episode, I’m tackling E is for Escolar and Ecosystems.

Listen here or download on iTunes and Google Play.

What is escolar? Why should you care? Where can you find it and should you eat it? There are two types of ecosystems, marine and terrestrial. Today I’m going to talk about one specific marine ecosystem, coral reefs.

E is for Escolar

Let’s start out by answering a seemingly innocuous question.

What is escolar?

Well, get ready, because there is nothing simple about this fish.

In fact, escolar might be one of the most delicious and dangerous fish in the ocean.

Here are some basics.

Escolar is a large fast-swimming fish found in warm tropic and temperate climates. In the US, think Florida and Hawaii. Escolar is also called walu walu, Hawaiian butterfish, waloo, or white tuna.

Escolar has a firm, rich, oily flesh making it an irresistible and delectable catch. However, that oily content is where the danger lies. Since the escolar’s diet consists of food high in wax esters and escolar have a tough time digesting wax esters, its flesh is super oily.

And super oily fish can be a problem for many consumers.

Note, If you want to know more about wax esters, check out the link in the show notes.

So should you eat escolar?

That’s a personal choice. It is a buttery, melt in your mouth fish. And you may want to gobble it up!

But if you do? You need to know a few things first.

First, the most important thing to know is, where your fish comes from and who your boat captain is. And trust him or her. Not only is that smart business, but you will have no doubt about what you are buying and eating.

Second, only eat six ounces of escolar or less. Period. Do not be a little piggy at the sushi bar.

And now I need to give you a warning.

What you’re about to hear in the next few minutes will either make you laugh or you will be repulsed. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Overconsumption of escolar can lead to abdominal cramps and diarrhea. I’m talking about spending serious time in the bathroom. Think an oily yellowish-orange hot mess. Seriously! This could happen as soon as 30 minutes after eating and last for days. Or worse you could just fart that oily liquid unexpectedly. I am not kidding. This shit happens.

How do I know?

It happened to me. Fortunately, I was at home.

Escolar is called the Ex-lax fish for a reason.

Now if you’re still with me, thank you for hanging and hopefully laughing!

Alright so beyond the oily issue, what else can be said about escolar?

We need to address the reason escolar is being sold on the market if it’s such a problem fish. Well, it’s no secret the seafood industry needs to do something about overfishing. And so there is a huge push to encourage consumers to eat under loved fish. Now I am all about selling underloved seafood. It’s a terrific way to help curb overfishing and selling underloved fish supports small-scale fishermen and communities.

As you probably guessed, escolar is one of those under-loved species—Also the good news is it’s abundant and inexpensive.

But something else needs to be addressed too.

Sometimes escolar is mislabeled and called white tuna. So not only is this inherently wrong, but there are health consequences like those mentioned a few moments ago.

So why would escolar be called anything other than escolar?

Aaaand this is the slippery part of the story.

So first of all, to a chef’s credit, they may be unaware that what they’re buying is escolar. Many chefs don’t buy whole fish, so at the receiving end, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell the difference between escolar or white tuna. Also, not all chefs do the receiving at the restaurant. Sometimes the dishwasher signs the invoice pops the fish in the cooler and goes back to loading the machine. Without checking the fish. I like to think this is a rare occasion, but I’ve seen more of my share of, um, Anthony Bourdain type events in my twenty-three years of working in the food industry. If you recall, Bourdain’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential was an expose of what happens behind the scenes in the back of the house.

Now the fault doesn’t necessarily lie with the distributor either. Sometimes the fish is packaged incorrectly and is delivered from the docks with the wrong label. Fish processing is done by humans, not robots.

That’s not to say there are no unscrupulous people.

There are indeed duplicitous fishermen and business people in the world. We have modern day pirates, slavery and murder in the seafood industry. But that’s a story for another episode.

Now the other thought I have about escolar being called something other than escolar is a marketing issue.

So think about this. Which of the following two descriptions sound more appetizing?

You’re sitting in a restaurant, sipping wine, stomach growling. The server reads off the daily special:

“Today’s fish special is Grilled Escolar with a Ginger-turmeric Glaze with roasted Sugar Snap Peas.”

Okay, so prior to this podcast, you don’t know what escolar is and you ask the server. So he either knows, or he returns to the kitchen in search of an answer, or worse he takes an order from a six top then heads to the kitchen for your answer, at which point your spouse is glaring because you sent the server away.

Or his daily special sounds like this:

“Today’s fish special is Grilled Hawaiian Walu Walu with a Ginger-turmeric Glaze with roasted Sugar Snap Peas.

See what I mean? Who doesn’t want Hawaiian fish? It sounds exotic!

Now if you order escolar, remember don’t eat more than six ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards and you should be fine. And no more than four pieces of sushi. However, if you have stomach issues in general, you’re not going to love escolar at all.

Now if you see escolar in the display at the grocery, here are a few buying tips.

  • At the market, the flesh should be firm, white (not gray) and not flaking apart.
  • The fish should smell fresh like the ocean. Don’t be shy about asking to smell your fish. It’s your money! And health.
  • Once home, store the fish in the coldest part of the refrigerator which is generally the back.
  • Remove the skin before cooking.
  • And probably the best way to cook escolar is either on the grill or seared in a hot skillet on the stovetop.

Lastly, worth noting you won’t find escolar at the market in many countries. For instance, Japan and Italy banned escolar. And many countries advise against its consumption because of its supposed toxicity. Escolar like mahi-mahi, shark, tuna and other mackerel species, can also contain histamines, a type of bacterial food toxin, if not handled and stored properly. In the US, escolar is not banned.

So to wrap up, sometimes just knowing is the best news of the day.

E is for Ecosystems

So when you don’t live near the ocean, theirs is plenty to think about other than what’s happening below the surface. Unless you work in the industry or are a seafood nerd, right? But you probably have seen the ocean. Some of you have snorkeled or are certified scuba divers.

I’m going to fill you in on how I connected with the oceans and coral reefs and then we’ll dive in to discover some amazing things about coral reefs, a few challenges, and some solutions.

So, Wyland, the American artist known for his famous outdoor murals featuring whales and other sea creatures, said, “all of us, at one time or another, find ourselves drawn to the sea.”

And for me, that moment was during the summer of 1975. I was fourteen years old when Mom and four of my sisters drove from our hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to Ocean City, MD. Once I saw the deep blue water on the horizon and dug my toes into the sand and felt the cool wetness beneath the hot surface at the beach, I knew that one day I would live near the ocean.

And while I had many other beach vacations over the years, it took another fourteen years before I moved to Florida where I lived and worked for the next twenty-three years.

For the first ten years, I managed a breakfast and lunch restaurant in the Florida Keys. When I wasn’t slinging bacon and eggs, I fished for tuna, wahoo, and mahi-mahi on the open sea, grouper and snapper along the canals and in the backcountry, tarpon, and cobia under the Seven Mile Bridge. I snorkeled in the warm turquoise waters along the Florida reef where a 3D technicolor world of brightly colored corals and tropical fish coexistence with sharks and barracudas, sea cucumbers and eels.

And all those years I snorkeled up and down the Florida reef, throughout the Bahamas, in the Turks & Caicos, even the Red Sea at the tip of Israel, I never went scuba diving. Mostly because at that time, I was an avid mountain snow skier and without unlimited funds and time, I opted for the best of both worlds. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an appreciation for what lies in deep blue sea, it just means I rely on photographers and explorer’s who do travel down to the deepest parts of the ocean to color my stories.

One of the most famous and prolific ocean divers of our time is American biologist and ocean conservationist Sylvia A. Earle.

Sylvia is my ocean hero. And if you are familiar with her work, then I’m betting she is yours too.

So what has Sylvia’s seventy years of diving and ocean conservation shown us about the coral reefs around the world?

First, let’s dive into what a coral reef is and its significance is to the health of our blue world.

Coral reefs are the most diverse of all the marine ecosystems. They cover less than one percent of the earth’s surface yet one-quarter of all marine species rely on coral reefs for food and shelter.

According to the Smithsonian, “The value of coral reefs has been estimated at 30 billion U.S. dollars and perhaps as much as 172 billion U.S. dollars each year, providing food, protection of shorelines, jobs based on tourism, and even medicines.”

That’s impressive.

Coral reefs survive natural destruction like tsunamis and hurricanes but may not survive man-made destruction like global C02 emissions and warming ocean temperatures.

  • Yet according to WWF, we have lost almost 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs.
  • 80 percent of the coral species in the Caribbean have been destroyed. The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is the largest reef in the world and is visible from space. But the GBR is in trouble.
  • The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is the largest reef in the world and is visible from space. But the GBR is in trouble.

Humans are responsible for much of the destruction of coral reefs—think plastic pollution, overfishing, ocean acidification and the introduction of lionfish, an invasive species which I’ll discuss later in the year under L is for Lionfish & Lobster.

So what is being done to protect this beautiful otherworldly environment?

  • Well, some species will survive and thrive adapting to these changes. Scientists propose solutions from building shade panels over reefs to adding lime to the water to gardening new manmade reefs to attract fish and providing food and habitat for many marine species.
  • Scientists propose solutions from building shade panels over reefs
  • Adding lime to the water
  • Gardening new manmade reefs to attract fish and providing food and habitat for many marine species.
  • Mostly, though, it’s up to us to make changes today for our children’s futures.

So last thoughts and a quick note about my ocean hero, Sylvia Earle and her mission. Sylvia created the Mission Blue Alliance. She also created designated Hope Spots, those places around the world that are critical for the health of our planet.

Watch Sylvia’s TED Talk (link below) to find out more about this special program. And then head over to Mission Blue and vote to designate your favorite Hope Spot.

Use whatever resources you have to spread the word about what is happening to our beautiful blue planet and oceans.

Share this podcast with your family and friends and on your social media.

And when you enjoy a day at the beach and dig your toes into the sand, remember that our earth relies on you and your choices to keep that ocean water underneath the surface of the beach cool and healthy.

Thanks for listening.

Next up F is for Farmed Fish & Faux Fish.

Yes, there is such a thing! Don’t forget to subscribe to Green Fish Blue Oceans on iTunes or Google Play so you don’t miss an episode.

And have a great two weeks.

Show Links

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D is for Dogfish and Discards

Fish Fight

Ink on Moleskin, Maureen C. Berry, Sustainable Foods Institute 2013

Listen here, iTunes or Google Play (And please subscribe!)

Welcome to Green Fish Blue Oceans, the podcast where stories about seafood are good for you and the oceans.

On today’s episode, D is for Dogfish and Discards, I’ll explain all things dogfish and discards in less than fifteen minutes.

What is dogfish? And should you eat it? Where can you find it? What are discards, why should you care and what can you do?

Stick around I’ve got some ‘splaining to do.

D is for Dogfish

Dogfish, like many seafood species, are called by different names. For instance, a dogfish can be called a spiny dogfish, piked dogfish, rock salmon, and spiky dog! And again, I don’t know why the seafood industry does this! All said, what you really need to know is that a dogfish is a shark.

Here are a few shark stats worth mentioning and then a little backstory about how the dogfish industry came around before I get into the should you eat dogfish and where can you find it.

  • There are over 400 shark species in the oceans. Sharks have been around for hundreds of millions of years.
  • They are predatory creatures, at the top of the food chain in the oceans and their presence is necessary for the health of the oceans.
  • Sharks are slow to grow and have few offspring making them a target for overfishing.
  • Sharks get caught in fishing gear and are illegally fished for their fins (which I will discuss later in the year in S is for salmon and shark fins). Shark fisheries are not well managed and without fisheries management, overfishing is also a problem.
  • Sadly, many shark species are in decline and many are severely depleted. Specifically Scalloped, hammerheads, blue, and thresher sharks. I added a Shark chart in the show notes to help you with the what, where and why fo shark declines.

And speaking of overfishing, it could be said that overfishing is the biggest threat to the future of seafood populations.

However, all that said, some species of shark, like the dogfish, are healthy and abundant. They’re a good source of protein and provide jobs for fishermen on the West coast of the US and on the North East coast in the US, specifically for those fishermen who once relied on cod for their livelihood.

What happened to the cod industry? And what does that have to do with Dogfish?

Well if you’re a seafood nerd you already know, but if you’re not, then I can sum it up for you with this limerick I concocted while blending a smoothie during research and writing.

There once was a fish named Cod.

Whose life ended

at the tip of a rod.

He gave a good fight,

with all of his might,

but his fate

was a crate

then a plate.

Poor sod.

Cod a once abundant fish helped grow the human population of the Western world according to Mark Kurlansky, the famed commercial fisherman turned journalist and author of the book, Cod.

But after decades of nonstop, ruthless fishing, the once great cod fishery, collapsed in 1992. This devastated fishing communities and their families around the world.

Fast forward to 2017.

Enter the dogfish.

Dogfish were once considered discard fish, which I’ll talk about later in the program. In the late 1990s, dogfish catch levels were low, but by 2010 with good fisheries management, the dogfish species rebounded making dogfish a viable commercial fishing opportunity for ex NE Cod fishermen.

These sharks are caught on a longline, which is a sustainable fishing method, and the entire shark is processed and sent abroad. Apparently, the European market is thrilled to eat dogfish. Now you can also find dogfish in markets on the West coast of the US from California to Washington.

At the Market

Don’t forget to ask where your shark is caught since this, along with the fishing method, sets the sustainable shark apart from the not sustainable shark.

You should be aware that sharks can develop a pissy/ ammonia smell and flavor. Some cooks suggest soaking the shark in milk for a few hours. Personally, if my fish doesn’t smell like the ocean, I pass and look for another species.

Now, I personally haven’t eaten dogfish, but I did eat shark a few times several years ago when I lived in Florida. More to know what I was selling, not necessarily by choice.

Shark has a mild flavor and the flesh is meaty. Best methods for cooking are on the grill or seared in a skillet.

Shark, like all seafood, cooks quickly, so have your salad prepared, your taco station ready to go, your wine poured and the candles lit if that’s how you roll.

While shark is a good source of protein and low in fat, shark also contains high mercury levels. So if you’re pregnant or making dinner for the kiddos, do a Nancy Reagan, and “just say no”.

What I DO love about this species is that it illustrates how the industry can change for the better with proper fisheries management. Because once a wild fishery collapses, how do we bring it back?

Since there isn’t an infinite supply of fish in the oceans, fisheries management is part of the solution to ensure the health of the oceans for the future. One drawback of managing fish stocks is that it harms the fishermen. What are they to do with their lives while a fish stock is being rebuilt? Fishing communities and fishermen do not rape and pillage the oceans for fun and profit (well some pirates do), but fishing is not only a livelihood, it’s a way of life.

There are hard questions and thoughts here at GFBO. And I don’t have all the answers.

But I do want to share something else that is innovative and cool.

One of the ways we can learn about where fish was caught and when it was caught is by tracking the boats. So how is that done?

You probably guessed, with satellites.

Check out GlobalFishingWatch. You will need to register first, but it a free service! Click anywhere on the map to see exactly where your fish is being caught in real-time.

This incredible opportunity is brought to you by Oceana, Skytruth, and Google. It’s just another example of how tech and innovation can help change the fishing industry to create more transparency, stop, well, okay, a woman can dream, how about slow, illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

For decades, the seafood distribution and supply chain was tainted with a lack of transparency. I know firsthand, but I’m not getting into that right now.

My goal at GFBO is to bring you tools so you can make informed choices at the market.

D is for Discards

I’ve got to warn you, what I’m about to talk for the next several minutes may make you want to throw up and cuss like a sailor. Maybe both at the same time if that’s possible.

But hopefully, you will hang, listen and then act.

A few years ago, at the MBA SFI, I watched a short film that made me want to cry and throw up at the same time. That film was titled, Fish Fight. There is another “F” that I want to use, but I won’t. Not yet. There will come a day.

In 2010, chef, broadcaster and advocate Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, launched Fish Fight campaign in the UK to change EU fishing policies. Specifically, the laws as they related to discards.

At the time, half the fish caught in the North Sea were being thrown back. Pause. Half. Pause.

That my friends is a discard.

Discard is the catch of unmarketable fish, whether by size, species or not whether it is not allowed to land because of quota restrictions. I’ll talk more about quota in Q is for Quotas and Queen Scallops later this year.

Now, I was not naïve to the challenges of the fisheries industry.

The industry has been fraught with challenges on both the high seas, the coasts and on land for a long time. But when I saw Hugh’s Fish Fight film, I was appalled. My heart throbbed in my throat. My breathing became shallow. Sweat beads formed along my hairline and under my arms. My stomach churned.

Afterward, all I could do was sketch Hugh being interview by author and journalist Juliet Eilperin. I knew that sketch of him would trigger those awful feelings over and over so I would never buy the wrong seafood again. Not that I bought the wrong seafood, but this took things to a new level. And just to confirm, I don’t feel awful about Hugh, he’s a fascinating charming character! but the sketch. I also knew I would do something to help other people understand what’s happening in the oceans.

So when you’re ready, I included a link in the show notes to the one-minute YouTube video so you can watch too. Let me know what you think? Did you react like I did?

So apparently, I had no idea what was happening on the high seas.

Pause. But I’m happy to let you know, Fish Fight campaign was a success. It took two years, but Fish Fight created an agreement to end discard bans and overfishing. The message spread across Europe to Germany, Poland, Spain, and France.

It’s great to see what can happen from large numbers of like-minded people. But really, change happens at the individual level too. Your choices at the market can impact the future of our fisheries and ocean.

So how can you help?

  • Follow seafood recommendation guidelines from Seafood Watch, Environmental Defense Fund and Marine Conservation Society.
  • Speaking of buying sustainable seafood, think about shopping in the freezer aisle at the market.
  • Shop online with a trusted source. Who might that be? Ask me. I’m here to help.
  • Sign up for this podcast to learn about seafood you might not be familiar with.
  • Ask your market to bring in specific sustainable seafood species.
  • Make a difference with your cold hard cash.
  • Don’t like what’s happening at the docks or on the ocean? Contact your politicians at the local, regional and national levels regarding seafood policies if necessary.
  • Want to share a good fish story going on in your hood? Got a shark recipe you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you.
  • Hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or shoot me an email

Don’t just eat seafood, eat seafood that is good for you and the oceans.

Show Notes & Links

Mark Kurlansky, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World


Mercury in Dogfish

Shark Chart Declines by Species

Environmental Defense Fund/Shark

Cape Cod Fishery/Dogfish

Dogfish Fishing in Action/YouTube

Safina Center Bycatch/Discards

Global Fishing Watch

Sea To Table/Brooklyn-based wholesale seafood distribution company pairing chefs and home cooks with small-scale sustainable fishermen

Fish Fight/YouTube

Follow the Fish Fight timeline

Thanks for listening. (And please subscribe on iTunes or Google Play so you don’t miss an episode.) 

Episode 5, E is for Escolar and Environment, is scheduled March 17, 2017.

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