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Food & Water Watch’s 2011 Smart Seafood Guide Recommends Eating Exotic Invasive Species
Tasting and cooking demonstration at the James Beard House showcases safe preparation of poisonous lionfish
WASHINGTON - July 6 - European green crabs and blue tilapia may sound like exotic, even make-believe versions of more familiar types of seafood, but according to the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch, they’re real, they’ve invaded U.S. waters, and cooking and eating them is a delicious way to stop their destructive onslaught – a method the group and award-winning chef Kerry Heffernan demonstrated today at New York City’s historic James Beard House.
Food & Water Watch heralded the release of their 2011 Smart Seafood Guide [http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/seafood/guide/] by hosting the exotic cooking presentation, which showed audience members how to prepare some of the guide’s new invasive species recommendations. Defined as species that have been brought into an environment to which they are not native, the fish and shellfish listed in the guide have all wreaked havoc on local ecosystems; fortunately, all are edible.
“These invasive species can offer seafood lovers an additional source of delicious and sustainable seafood for consumers,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “While some of the species can be difficult to come by, we hope to generate awareness and inspire consumers to ask their seafood suppliers to begin carrying these sustainable options.”
“Having farmed salmon for dinner isn’t going to help save a local ecosystem,” Hauter continued. “Now Asian carp or lionfish, that’s a different story.”
One of the fish prepared by the chefs at the James Beard House event was a lionfish, a species notorious for its venomous spines and insatiable appetite.
“Once you remove a lionfish’s spines and neutralize the poison by grilling it, it tastes like any other whitefish – like snapper or grouper,” said Heffernan, who is the executive chef at New York City’s South Gate Restaurant. “Cooking lionfish, like cooking many other invasive species, may be intimidating at first. But with a little education even the most amateur cook can safely prepare it at home.”
The guide recommends those invasive species that have had a significant negative impact on their local environment.
“Of course, our seafood guide gives consumers information on more traditional seafood like shrimp, trout or tuna, but it’s even more interesting this year since most people probably haven’t heard of half of the invasive species we recommend,” Hauter said. “Learning about their impact on the environment and then actually cooking them can be a fun way to try new types of seafood. We hope we can help create a demand for these species, since harvesting them for food is an easy way to provide more sustainable options.”
The guide reccomends invasive species like Asian carp, which are currently invading the Great Lakes region.They are prolific spawners and voracious eaters that grow and mature quickly.Silver carp, a subspecies of Asian carp, may consume two to three times their own body weight in algae and phytoplankton each day, competing with native fish for food in the lakes and ponds of the Midwest.
All in all, the 2011 Smart Seafood Guide lists over 100 types of seafood and is the only guide assessing not only the human health and environmental impacts of eating certain seafood, but also the socio-economic impacts on coastal and fishing communities.
In addition to listing invasive species, the 2011 guide evaluates several new species and, like last year’s guide, highlights the “Dirty Dozen” — 12 species that fail to meet two or more of Food & Water Watch’s criteria for safe and sustainable seafood.
The guide is offered as an online tool for consumers searching for seafood based on taste or U.S. region of origin. Food & Water Watch has also developed a smaller, printed version for consumers to reference before making a purchase at markets or restaurants.
"The management of our waterways and sustainable seafood are topics many Americans express concern about, especially chefs,” said Mitchell Davis, Vice President of the James Beard Foundation. “With education one of our core missions, we are grateful to host Food & Water Watch to explore the issue of invasive species and ways the culinary community can join together to find solutions."