Copyright © 2019 Portland Press Herald
April 15, 2019
On a recent chilly evening, Amybeth Hurst made a tuna casserole at her Old Orchard Beach home. Why was this noteworthy? Because the recipe she used included no actual tuna fish. Instead, she made the casserole with the fish-free tuna from Good Catch, which Whole Foods Market in Portland began stocking in February.
"It was very tasty, and the texture was spot on," Hurst told me.
Instead of fish, this "tuna" is made from chickpea flour, navy bean flour, lentil protein, pea protein isolate, seaweed powder and algae oil. Good Catch is among a wave of new companies offering vegan versions of fish and seafood. Other newcomers include Ocean Hugger's plant-based sushi tuna, Prime Roots' fish-free salmon burger and New Wave Foods' vegan shrimp.
A slightly older company, Sophie's Kitchen (founded in 2011), produces a suite of plant-based seafoods, such as crab cakes, fish fillets, scallops, tuna and smoked salmon. More established brands Quorn and Gardein also offer plant-based seafood as part of their wider meat-free options.
"It's definitely a rapidly rising trend," said Cliff White, executive editor of SeafoodSource, a trade publication and interactive website published by Diversified Communications in Portland. "I'm curious to see what happens with it."
White said these brands "seems to have taken off in the last two to three years" as the demand for vegan foods has skyrocketed, adding that "investors are looking at it as a growth industry."
Michele Simon heads the Plant Based Foods Association, a D.C.-based trade group for vegan companies. She said while the organization doesn't track the size or growth of the vegan seafood industry, it does measure the sector as a whole.
"Plant-based food sales were up 20 percent last year," Simon said. "And we expect that number to continue to grow."
This growth rate, coupled with the vegan trend's track record of stealing customers from animal-based foods, is stirring debate within the seafood industry.
White at SeafoodSource said vegan seafood companies exhibiting at trade shows is "one of the biggest controversies" in the industry right now. Diversified Communications organizes multiple Seafood Expo events in cities around the world each year, and in the past few years plant-based seafood brands have become regular exhibitors.
Opinions differ, White said, about "whether to embrace these vegan seafood companies and welcome them into the industry or to fight them and exclude them."
Dominic Welling is a London-based senior reporter for trade publication IntraFish, where he recently penned an opinion piece warning that if today's kids grow up eating vegan seafood they'll think plant-based seafood brands "are the equivalent, or even better version, of actual seafood."
Welling offers the cautionary tale of plant-based milks and how they've replaced cow's milk in many grocery carts. "Whatever your views on people's dietary choices," Welling continues in his column, "this rise in vegan seafood has the potential to be quite damaging to the seafood category."
I agree with Welling that the seafood industry should be paying attention to this trend because plant-based brands pull customers away from traditional animal-based foods, but my take-away is different. Plant-based seafood won't damage the industry. But it could change it.
That's because plant-based seafood has the potential to be a disruptive innovation: a product that usurps traditional market leaders and is viewed as an improvement. This same disruptive force is playing out in other animal-based parts of the food industry as customers seek alternative products with health and environmental benefits.
Some are fighting the changes, such as the dairy industry's attempt to police the labelling of plant-based milks with the Dairy Pride Act in Congress. Others are embracing them, such as Tyson, which recently invested in Beyond Meat (bleeding plant burgers); Memphis Meats (lab-grown beef and chicken); and Elmhurst Dairy, outside New York City, which two years ago transformed into Elmhurst 1925, a processor of plant-based milks.
Good Catch makes no secret about its desire to convert customers who buy StarKist, Bumble Bee or Chicken of the Sea tuna into Good Catch fish-free tuna customers instead.
"Good Catch's mission is to disrupt the seafood category with products consumers want without any of the negatives" such as "mercury, dioxins and other contaminants" said Scott Simons, senior vice president of Good Catch, based in New York City.
Rather than marketing to vegans and vegetarians, Simons said "the target audience is people who love seafood."
Those are fighting words, since canned tuna sales have plunged more than 40 percent during the past 30 years, according to a Wall Street Journal report last year based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Another Good Catch selling point is its smell, or rather lack of the fishy smell that fills offices and lunchrooms when someone pulls out a traditional tuna sandwich.
Here in Maine, there hasn't been much talk about what these new plant-based products could mean for the fishing industry.
"I've not heard of this before," said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association in Brunswick, when asked about the trend. "That's interesting that there's a market for them."
Martens isn't aware of anyone in Maine making and selling plant-based seafood, but he did say some Maine fishermen are diversifying by adding aquaculture or kelp-growing operations to supplement traditional fishing.
White at SeafoodSource said many of the vegan seafood brands include seaweed or algae as ingredients and that Maine's algae and seaweed sector "is one of the largest in the United States, if not the largest."
To me, this adds up to a ripe opportunity for diversifying Maine fishermen or other entrepreneurs to expand into the plant-based seafood sector.
Back in Old Orchard Beach, Hurst said she used to eat tuna before going vegan five years ago, so she was eager to try the plant-based version. But she's not sure she'll buy the Good Catch tuna again because of its high price. Whole Foods sells 3.3-ounce pouches of Good Catch fish-free tuna for $4.99, compared to $2.29 for 4 ounces of Whole Foods' house brand of canned albacore tuna.
"There is such a small amount in the package," Hurst said of the Good Catch tuna. "It was hardly worth it. That was the only drawback."
Simons at Good Catch predicts that "costs will come down as manufacturing scales up." For now, it remains a premium product.
However, Walmart announced at the end of March that their stores would begin stocking the Loma Linda Tuno, another fish-free product. Calls to the Walmarts in Greater Portland didn't turn up any that had it yet, but on the Walmart website, the 5-ounce cans of Tuno sell for $1.37.
At that price, plant-based seafood's disruptive potential within the industry could be much more potent.
Boston macks dying fast ...
Atlantic Mackerel Stocks Down 86% Over Past 20 Years, Says New DFO Report
Copyright © 2019 CBC/Radio-Canada
By Paul Withers
April 11, 2019
The latest stock assessment for Atlantic mackerel contains grim news for one of the region's most iconic fish.
Scientists say the spawning population is down 86 per cent from pre-2000 levels, and the number of fish surviving to breed is at all-time lows.
An assessment by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says mackerel are in the "critical zone" where serious harm is occurring and recovery is threatened by overfishing.
Adding to the uncertainty are changing environmental conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence where mackerel spawn.
The results may surprise recreational anglers who catch mackerel from wharves throughout Atlantic Canada, but DFO scientist Andrew Smith said those are small groups of fish schooling close to shore.
They do not represent an accurate picture of the overall stock, which has been declining for years, he said.
"We continue to have a very low biomass. We are in the critical zone. We have had two very low years of recruitments in Atlantic mackerel, the two lowest on record," Smith said in an interview from DFO's Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, Que.
Very few 1-year-old fish being found
Smith is the lead author of a recent DFO stock assessment.
According to the data in a single-year class, those hatched in 2015 made up 75 per cent of all mackerel landed last year.
In 2017, the department sampled 20,000 fish throughout the region and found a single one-year old mackerel.
"There are fewer older larger females in the population. Fewer older adults to contribute to the next generation. Mackerel can live up to 20 years, but it's been decades since we've seen mackerel over the age of seven and currently in the water there is only really one significant year class," Smith said.
Mackerel winter off New Jersey and swim up the Atlantic coast arriving first off Nova Scotia, then they move around Cape Breton to spawn in the southern Gulf of St Lawrence.
After spawning, they disperse.
The assessment points the finger at overfishing in Canada and the United States.
Mackerel is caught as bait fish. It is the primary bait used in the lobster fishery, making it a key input in a billion-dollar industry.
Commercial catch limits
The total allowable commercial catch in Canada was 10,000 metric tonnes in 2018 — down from nearly 55,000 metric tonnes in 2005. The American quota this year is 9,100 metric tonnes.
There are also environmental changes underway, especially in the Gulf of St Lawrence.
Water temperatures are rising and there is less zooplankton, their preferred prey.
"But the single biggest impact that's going to determine whether the stock grows or declines or stays stable is mortality due to fishing," said Smith.
Is the fishery sustainable?
Environmentalist Shannon Arnold of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax said the assessment shows the fishery cannot continue at this level.
"They're taking more fish out that than the population can sustain," she said.
"That's been happening for a number of years and science made it clear that overfishing is the reason that we're in this situation. The other things that are happening in the Gulf with the food moving and changes in the ocean is also exacerbating and taking away some of their resilience. But the main problem is the amount of fish that are getting taken out by the fishery."
N.L. union wants quota increased
DFO is also under pressure to increase the quota from fishing interests in Newfoundland and Labrador, which says the federal department has it all wrong.
David Decker of the Fish Food and Allied Workers Union, which represents plant workers, claims the department is using outdated science and missing spawning grounds off his province.
He said the DFO survey used to estimate the biomass is based on a larval and egg survey done since 1979 in the southern Gulf.
"It's not working anymore. The reality is they're shifting distribution of that stock. We see major aggregations of mackerel on the northeast coast," said Decker.
"In fact, last year we collected over 200 samples of small mackerel and sent [them] to the research lab in Mont Joli and these mackerel were between two and four months old, which shows clearly that spawning taking place right now on the northeast coast."
DFO has not found this mystery spawning ground.
Smith said the department has ramped up its sampling program throughout the region in recent years, including in Newfoundland.
They looked for signs of spawning in 2015 and 2016 in three bays in northeast Newfoundland — Notre Dame Bay, Trinity Bay and White Bay — and found zero eggs or larvae.
A "few eggs" were found in southwestern Newfoundland between 2004 and 2009, but the department stands by its contention the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is the primary spawning site.
"We're fairly confident that we're picking up an accurate view of recruitments, that is, the influx of new fish in the population. A mackerel can grow up to 20 centimetres in its first year of life. You can see them in the data," said Smith.
The department also reported that genetic testing has confirmed mackerel caught off Newfoundland are almost entirely from the North American population.
DFO is expected announce the 2019 Canadian mackerel quota within weeks.
The Marine Stewardship Council is also likely to be watching. In the past, it has made protection of Atlantic mackerel a condition of its certification of the region's lobster fishery.
So far, the council has been satisfied the lobster fishery is not hindering the recovery of the mackerel stock.