Boulder Is Among Cities Championing Bycatch Fish Movement

Bycatch fish refers to those specimen normally tossed by fishermen. 

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November 3, 2015 4 min read
Normally tossed back overboard, bycatch fish are gaining popularity in kitchens everywhere.

Normally tossed back overboard, bycatch fish are gaining popularity in kitchens everywhere.

In recent years, the demand for fish has grown considerably across the globe. According to a 2014 report by the United Nations, fisheries produced 174 million tons worldwide in 2012, up a significant 11 million tons from 2010. Yet, at the same time, the amount of fish being wasted at various levels has reached shocking proportions. A report by Johns Hopkins University noted that fishermen lose about 573 million pounds of fish each year. Additionally, consumers end up tossing out another 47 percent of all seafood, according to a 2015 report from JHU’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. So, then, how do experts rectify both a growing demand and such costly waste? As Eater reported, some chefs are bridging the gap by using what some in the industry have commonly called trash fish.

The tale of trash fish
Also referred to as the more technical term of bycatch, trash fish are simply those creatures that most fishermen never intended to catch. In fact, while many of these fish are just as edible as so-called target fish – like trout, halibut and cod – bycatch are either tossed overboard or ground into bait to catch the more lauded fish. In recent years, more chefs are actually requesting species like the barrelfish or Spanish mackerel. One chef leading the charge actually has ties to the greater Boulder area.

Kelly Whitaker owns two restaurants in Colorado – the Denver-based Cart Driver and Boulders’ Basta. When not working his magic in the kitchen, Whitaker tours the U.S. cooking trash fish dinners to promote both the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and Chef’s Collaborative charities. He told Eater that the idea of using bycatch fish actually dates back to the 1970s. At this time, many chefs began to use Chilean sea bass, also called the Patagonian toothfish for its long, saw-like rows of teeth. In the 1990s, the trend continued with the monkfish. Though this horrific looking fish was once all but avoided it’s now sold across the globe and has become popular for its rich taste, comparable to lobster.

“Fifteen years ago, it was considered bycatch and it’s now a very sought-after fish,” Whitaker told Eater. “There are a lot of fish in transition now, but chefs are beginning to use these previous ‘trash’ species, and consumers are beginning to accept them.”

A growing cause
Beyond Whitaker’s continuing work in Boulder, an increasing amount of chefs are championing the cause of trash fish. According to the Eater, bycatch are a huge draw at many five-star eateries across the U.S. For instance, New York’s Momofuku Ssam Bar serves up boneless porgy. And, according to Bon Appetit, chef Rick Moonen serves up trash fish in two of his Las Vegas restaurants – Border Grill and RxBoiler Room.

In March 2015, according to Food Tank, 20 chefs from across the world joined forces with Oceana’s Save the Oceans: Feed the World campaign. This collective has outlined a number of different primary goals including developing better biodiversity and moving global fishing operations toward a truly sustainable direction.

As Oceana pointed out, additional seafood protein – like trash fish – could be enough to feed some 700 million people in various underserved countries. There are several key policy changes Oceana is already tackling. These include enforcing scientific quotas on fish and limiting fishing operations to certain areas. These concepts, the charity argued, can feed the hungry and better protect existing populations of oceanic wildlife.

Another group that is working to better promote bycatch is Slow Fish. An offshoot of the environmental group Slow Food, Slow Fish works actively across the U.S. promoting fishing sustainability. In 2015, Slow Fish sponsored several events in New Orleans, a noted fishing hub for much of the U.S. During one such event, Slow Fish worked with Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries to offer bycatch samples to curious members of the public. Speaking with the New Orleans Advocate, GULF project coordinator John Fallon encapsulated much of the bycatch movement’s true scope and value.

“I think it’s part of the focus on getting what’s local and adding diversity to your diet, of tapping into more of what’s really out there,” Fallon said. “The trouble with serving this kind of seafood is the consistency. You don’t always know what you’re going to get because, by its nature, it isn’t a targeted catch. But when there’s more of a market for different types of fish, more fishermen will take care of what they catch and people can get better access to it.”

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