By Herb Gardener –
Note: Located in Sarasota, Florida, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is an independent marine research institution comprised of world-class marine scientists committed to the belief that the conservation and sustainable use of our oceans begins with research and education.
Originally focused on sharks, Mote’s research has expanded to include studies of human cancer using marine models, the effects of man-made and natural toxins on humans and on the environment, the health of wild fisheries, developing sustainable and successful fish restocking techniques and food production technologies and the development of ocean technology to help us better understand the health of the environment.
We are familiar with the phrase “America’s dependence on foreign oil”. Consumers, however, face another imbalance that receives far less attention, yet it may limit what your family eats in the decades ahead.
According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) 90 percent of our seafood is imported, about half of which is aquacultured. The production of aquatic animals and plants under controlled conditions for parts or all of their life cycles, aquaculture is bigger business in Bangladesh (United Nations Food and Agriculture statistics) than in this country.
Jim Michaels, a 35-year veteran of aquacultural production and an authority on sustainable aquaculture technology, says there are several reasons to be concerned. The middle class is growing fastest in Asia where seafood consumption is central to gastronomic traditions. Wealth and demand will shift away from Europe and the Americas, creating higher prices and scarcity at home. China has already vacuumed the Yellow Sea of table fare and is investing in fishing fleets to harvest in remote waters. Competition is sure to further deplete wild stocks.
Aquacultural imports lack the inspection and oversight regimes of domestic operations, and a Washington Post article stated that up to 32% of seafood imported to the U.S. is caught illegally. U.S. aquaculture has the potential to raise many fish and shellfish species in controlled environments so that our high standards of food safety and environmental stewardship are affirmed.
I recently visited Mr. Michaels’ sturgeon aquaculture program near Sarasota, Florida. What began as a research field station of Mote Marine Laboratory is now Healthy Earth Sarasota, Inc. a division of the Healthy Earth Group, a corporate effort to champion sustainable aqua and agricultural technologies and products. What distinguishes this caviar and sturgeon meat production facility is its use of recycling methods demonstrating that unlimited water access is not needed — nor environmentally sustainable or desirable — for large-scale production of food.
I wish that I could share further details of the operation, but you want to know about the fish, right? The Siberian sturgeon grown on site is gutted and sold to wholesalers. Several restaurants in the Sarasota area have featured Mote sturgeon on menus. The flesh has an oil content, 14%, that approaches that of salmon, imparting a rich flavor while delivering beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids. Smoking this cartilaginous fish in the East European deli fashion is delectable.
I will continue with the story of Healthy Earth Sarasota’s caviar in next month’s issue, which will include cameos from an ultrasound machine and molasses. Until then, remember that purchasing seafood is also a wager on the planet’s future. Inform yourself, strive to shrink your ecological footprint, and support sustainable technologies. For now, here’s a terrific sturgeon recipe to try. The unexpected sauce turns it into dinner-party fare.
Sauté Sturgeon (4 servings)
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
Season sturgeon fillets with salt and pepper. Preheat a large sauté pan on medium-high; add oil then carefully add fillets.
Sauté fillets for 3 to 5 minutes on each side depending on the thickness of fillets. Serve cooked fish with blueberry BBQ sauce.
Spicy Blueberry BBQ Sauce (4 Servings)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced Florida onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh Florida jalapeno, seeded
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 cups fresh blueberries
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the blueberries ketchup, vinegar, sugar, mustard and hot sauce and bring to a simmer. Simmer over low heat, stirring until thickened, about 10 minutes. Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pass through a strainer and season salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.