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Monday, December 12, 2011

Local bounty from the sea

Seafood Collaborative Docks Sustainability, for Now

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Seafood wants to ramp up its image in Rhode Island

At the second meeting of the state Seafood Marketing Collaborative, state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) director Janet Coit urged members to write letters to the editor and reach out to the media to highlight the benefits of abundant, local seafood.



"There's a lot we can talk about and go forth and do," Coit said to some 50 fishermen, academics and members of the local food and seafood industry.
One marketing idea that won't be promoted, at least in the near term, is to brand the seafood as certified sustainable. The most common, MSC or Marine Stewardship Council, designation was deemed too costly, too time-consuming and, perhaps, misleading.
"Increasingly, the pressure is on for a supplier like us to get certified by a recognized, high-priced certification agency, and we can't afford it. None of the suppliers in Rhode Island can afford it," said Bill Silkes, owner of North Kingstown-based American Mussel Harvesters.
The widely recognized MSC designation has also been criticized for offering its certification in fisheries with declining fish stocks. Greenpeace and other environmental groups have questioned the MCS labeling in fisheries where the science suggests biomass is falling. The cost of certification varies but can be as high as $120,000 and may take up to two years.
Other certifications were recommended by committee members, such as the international Food and Agriculture Organization program used by Alaska.
Dave Beutal of the Coastal Resources Management Council noted that not all Rhode Island seafood comes from local waters, as some certifications require. "We have vessels based in Rhode Island that fish from the Gulf of Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. Is that local?"
Other committee members suggested it might be best to focus on promoting food quality and how to prepare and cook it. "For some reason, people just don't feel comfortable cooking fish," said Lori Pivarnick, a seafood and nutrition expert with URI's Sea Grant program. "They're saying, 'Show me what to do. Show me how to handle a piece of fish.' Those two things are huge hurdles."
Coit suggested passing the sustainable certification idea to a subcommittee and sticking with marketing seafood local and healthy instead.  
A YouTube video presented by Barry Costa-Pierce, director of the Sea Grant program, highlighted the benefits of a successful collaboration between scientists and the $200 million to $300 million local seafood industry. The culmination of such a venture was celebrated at this year's Baird Sea Grant Symposium at Johnson & Wales University. The new seafood collaborative, he said, is exactly the approach needed to make the seafood industry flourish. "What comes out of this group is going to be a major driver for us."