Consuming 'Trashfish' Can Increase Local Fish Consumption: An Interview With Ren Ostry Of Trashfish
Feb. 6, 2018
backcomments powered by DisqusEating local can make a big impact on climate change. The food sector contributes about a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions, so reducing food miles, or the associated carbon costs with transporting food should help bolster efforts to cut down on global warming. Yet according to Paul Greenberg, author of American Catch, over 85% of the fish we consume is imported, and over a third of what we catch in the U.S. is exported. Not only is much of what we eat imported—it’s overwhelmingly the same three types of seafood, despite the immense biodiversity of ocean life (some say it’s more mysterious than outer space). These three superstar species are salmon, shrimp, and tuna, and they are in danger of being overfished as tons of less popular species get exported as feed or bait.
By Emily Torem
These are some of the statistics that drive Trashfish, a weekly subscription box that includes a rotating selection of local, uncommonly used seafood along with a recipe, a farmer’s market shopping list and a pantry good. “I’ve been trying to create a market for underloved seafood for five years,” says creator Ren Ostry, who centers each box around local bycatch, which are unwanted fish and crustaceans that come up with the intended target. According to Seafood Watch, with every pound of shrimp caught, six pounds of bycatch come up with it and are either discarded or used for feed.This can include seafood like Kellet’s Whelks, which fisherman often find scores of when catching crab. “Whelks have forty grams of protein, they taste just like clams, and are really common in French cuisine, so why aren’t we eating more of them?” Ostry asks. Another box contained squid from California’s Monterey Bay. “It’s one of the state’s biggest exports but if we keep it local we can sell it as a rich culinary experience and pay local fisherman for it,” she says.
The response from regular consumers has been really great, but the local fishermen have been equally enthusiastic. “I have fishermen calling me, like ‘I catch eels all the time and nobody wants them. Are you really going to take my eels?'” Ostry recalls her whelk purveyor getting emotional because he had “never made that much money from his bycatch before.”
Other “trashfish” advocates consume local invasive species like Lionfish, which has no natural predators in Miami, FL. Chefs there turn it into a substantial filling for a sandwich. “Invasive species reproduce rapidly and can outcompete native species that are crucial to the health of local ecosystems,” says Madeline Caldwell, Sustainability Specialist at the Shedd Aquarium. “I think [the trashfish] movement is great to educate the public on delicious species they might not be familiar with besides salmon, shrimp, and tuna,” she says.
The term trashfish isn’t without its critics, however. In an open letter on Civil Eats to chefs, author of The Whole Fish Maria Finn says that calling these fish “trash” is disrespectful to the fishermen who catch it, and the species themselves. She prefers the term “Fishermen’s Dinner,” which pays homage to the fishermen who do indeed eat what isn’t deemed saleable according to current seafood consumption trends. While perhaps the words “trash” and “fish” together is as jarring as the term “garbage salad”, Ostry acknowledges that it seems to ignite conversation, and that’s her primary goal. “The title ‘trashfish’ pulls people in,” she says. “They’ve either heard of it or are curious to understand it. It’s true that it’s a misnomer—I prefer the term underloved,” she says.
Caldwell emphasizes that choosing responsibly sourced seafood is crucial when thinking about the long-term health of our lakes and oceans. “When I talk about seafood, I’m really talking about fisheries and populations of fish,” says Ostry. “We should care about sustainable seafood if we want fish around.”