Each seafood consumer has a responsibility to ensure the seafood they eat is sustainably caught. Maureen Woodman of Woodman’s of Essex discusses sustainable fishing techniques and how to be an informed consumer. Listen or read more to find out about sustainable seafood.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, I’m here today with Maureen Woodman from Woodman’s of Essex, a restaurant and catering company, Essex, Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about sustainable seafood. Welcome, Maureen.

Maureen Woodman: Hi, John. Thanks for having me today.

John: Sure. So Maureen, what is sustainable seafood and why is it important?

Maureen: So, I wanna kinda put my own definition on sustainable seafood for everybody. It’s definitely something that a lot of people are talking about and there seems to be quite a bit of information out there, but what we really feel at Woodman’s would be local food that’s caught and harvested in ways that the fish and the shellfish are handled and they — the fishermen — are kind to the ocean and respectful, as well as constantly being aware that they don’t deplete the supply.

Back in the day for us, that all goes back to the clamming industry. There was runs and runs of years where the diggers would just go out there and dig up all the clams and then, we had some really hard years, because not only did they dig the clams, they dug the seed and the clams have a cycle and we did have many, three- or four-year runs where we had no clams.

So, I think that that’s definitely part of it. Seems to be a lot of information out there about why this is important, and what we can kinda figure out is it goes back to fishermen who had just a hook and a line or a net and probably, they didn’t have to put any kind of preservative on it, because they just caught what they ate that day, so I really think that’s what it comes down to.

You went out, you went fishing, and it truly became ocean to plate. You put it on the table and you fed your family.

Dangers of Over-Fishing

John: Right, yeah, but then when it became very commercialized and you have these really huge boats that are going out there and they’re dragging the floors of the ocean with their big nets and things like that and it can do some damage to the environment and collect, like you said with the clams, so much of the fish or whatever it is that you’re harvesting that then, they’re not reproducing at the same rates that they were before and then, eventually those species are gonna die out and you don’t want that.

Maureen: Sure, they’re gonna die out and the cost is gonna go up, because you’re gonna outweigh the supply and demand, which could really run up the cost. So, by the time it does get on the table at Woodman’s, the plate’s just too expensive.

Woodman’s History of Sustainable Seafood

John: Right. So, when did Woodman’s first become interested in sustainable seafood?

Maureen: So, I would say it became a pretty good topic in the 90s for us. We always had local clams and local lobsters. They really just came, the lobsters are from Manchester and the clams are truly Essex clams, but when it came time to get the fish for the fish plate or the combo or the fish sandwich, or it came time to get oysters for the raw bar or the scallops, all those things didn’t come from Essex, Mass.

They came from Cape Cod, they came from New England, but we had to go out and get them. They would come on trucks and they’d be iced down and packed and all this stuff and now, I think what you’re seeing, is things are getting delivered quicker, people don’t want any dyes in there, don’t want any preservatives. You don’t want any antibiotics, you don’t want any chemicals and I think this has gotten more and more popular.

I would have to say Legal Seafood had a lot to do with bringing this to people on the forefront. I think that if it isn’t fresh, it isn’t legal. That was their tagline from the ’50s, and if you know anything about them, it’s really interesting, they were right down on the docks in Boston, their first restaurant and then, they had the little one in Cambridge, but I think they were onto something and they made their own packing plant and I think everybody followed.

I think they were truly the innovators in this for our generation anyway.

John: Yeah, and then like you said, in the 90s, that’s when we really started to hear more about sustainable seafood and about over fishing and things like that, and it started becoming something that you’d hear about on the news a lot.

Maureen: Yeah, I think there were a lot of federal regulations, I think there’s a lot of stuff that went on that was happening in the ocean and people were really getting concerned about the mess out there whether it was with the oil or the fishing boats or just everything. People became aware, but I think it was a slow movement to really get to the tables.

What Can Seafood Consumers Do to Ensure Sustainability?

John: What do you think that consumers can do to make sure that the seafood that they’re eating is sustainable, if people are interested in only buying seafood that they know is harvested in that way?

Maureen: I think that at Woodman’s, the first thing that I would do when I’m ordering, I would ask the person taking the order — usually the managers and the kids that work for us at Woodman’s — they know pretty much where the food is coming from. Again, being with this for lobsters and clams, our food’s always been tagged. We know what bed the clams are dug in, we know when they were dug. They have dates attached to them.

So, like I said, this has been going on for 30 years, 40 years — that they know where everything’s coming from. But I think when it gets to the bigger food, the shrimp or the oysters or the calamari or the fish, I think you should ask where it comes from. Does it come from Alaska, does it come from Iceland? Are the shrimp coming from Thailand, are they coming from India? There’s some food that just doesn’t come in our local water, and I think the kids at the restaurant as well as the managers are aware of that.

John: Right, so people wanna know ‘is it local, is it domestic or imported, is it wild versus farm raised’? Things like that.

Maureen: Yeah, I think that’s really a pretty good question. Another thing that we’re seeing with the shellfish that we get is one of our big suppliers is North Coast Seafood. They have all these logos on them. They have the MSC-certified logo, they have the naked shrimp, which means that it’s certified sustainable, it’s absolutely chemical free. There’s no antibiotics, there’s no phosphates, there’s no preservatives, there’s no added water.

There’s this BAP-certified . . .

John: Right, that’s the Best Aquaculture Practices certification.

Maureen: Yep, so there’s all these little things and again, there’s this bluefish logo from the MSC, so I think you should probably take a look if you’re really trying to eat that way and ask around and see if they have these logos on them.

John: Right, the MSC is the Marine Stewardship Council and yeah, they have that little blue logo with the fish that sorta indicates that whatever that fish is whether you’re buying it at the market or at a restaurant, that it’s certified sustainable.

Maureen: Yeah, I think that’s pretty good. We got a little term here that I like, it’s ‘why is cod the golden child of the seafood world?’ The term whitefish has been synonymous with sweetness, easy to eat, a fish that has deeper, darker color, usually means it has deeper fish flavor due to the heavier fat content.

Cooked cod in white, tender, firm and lean and flaky with a mild taste. While your guest may be looking for bolder flavor profiles as an accompaniment to their seafood, they still want their seafood to be mild and lighter tasting and I think that’s really true. I haven’t met anyone that really wants a fishy fish.

John: Right, right. Yeah, when you say something’s fishy, that’s usually a bad thing.

Maureen: Yeah, definitely.

John: — in terms of tasting.

Maureen: I think that’s pretty interesting and they’re saying that the cod fish at Woodman’s is wild-caught in Alaska, hook-and-line caught and it has a mild, sweet flavor, so come on down and have some fried fish.

John: Sounds good. What other items at Woodman’s use sustainable seafood other than the cod?

Maureen: So, the oysters, which we have in our raw bar in the summer. The clams, the hard-shell clams, which are the little necks that are in the raw bar. The fried clams, the steamed clams and the clam strips — those all come from Essex or Ipswich area. The lobster, which comes from New England most of the time, but in season, we try to get all our lobster from Manchester, which is the next town over.

The calamari and the scallops, so all those foods are sustainable at Woodman’s.

John: All right, that’s really great information, Maureen. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Maureen: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me. This is kind of a hot topic, I think.

John: Yeah. And for more information about the Woodman’s restaurant, visit the Woodman’s website at woodmans.com or call (978) 768-6057.

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