Tonight in Boston, Legal Sea Foods and the Culinary Guild of New England are co-hosting a dinner “designed to provoke discussion” about sustainable seafood—for those who catch it, cook it, and eat it. As of January 13, the four-course menu included cod, hake, and black tiger shrimp (we’ve been unable to confirm a final menu), all seafood to avoid according to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list. The sold-out event, with its guest list of chefs and fisherman, has provoked intense reactions from both sides of this ocean-spanning coin. We spoke with Legal Sea Foods CEO Roger Berkowitz about it.
1. What prompted a meal like this?
A lot of chefs and restaurateurs don’t necessarily get a balanced view of sustainable fish in terms of what should be served and what is on the so-called banned list…. There’s a disconnect between what one body is saying and what is allowable.
2. Couldn’t your participation in this dinner be seen as somewhat self-serving?
Some people might think I was grandstanding. Nothing could’ve been further from the truth. [The meal] has gotten the debate going; I’m appreciative of that.
Someone had to take a position for the fisherman. The fishermen are not very good at advocating for themselves. They like the freedom that goes along with [being fishermen]. And they don’t advocate for themselves very well.
3. You say Legal has always been concerned with sustainability. Specifically, you offer Chilean sea bass as an example. Can you explain?
I’ve chosen not to put it on our menus. I didn’t want to send the message to others that it’s OK to eat this. For the most part, this is not sustainable. Rather than add to the problem, I’ve chosen not to serve it at all. We’re very very careful about what goes on the menu.
4. What’s the middle ground for environmental groups and fishermen?
We all really want to know what’s there so we can enact appropriate legislation. There is a debatable issue about how much fish is out there. One group will say one thing. Fisherman will say something else…. The idea here is to really create a dialogue.
5. So what’s the answer?
At the end of the day, everyone wants to do the right thing. True people in the fish business think about it in a generational way. It’s not in our interest to fish out the ocean bottom. And I’m not here to denigrate the environmental groups when the fisheries were on the verge of collapsing. That was absolutely appropriate. It just seems like the pendulum is now swinging more to the other way. The pendulum has to come down right in the middle.