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Monday, February 27, 2012

What fish is this?

Fish under miso with guts and glory fried rice, MoneyCat Brunch, Houston, TX
In the blog 29-95, J.C. Reid writes about the introduction of the Gulf Wild Tagging to track fish "authenticity". It's an interesting technology, but I take issue with some of the logic used to defend the need for such tracking.

1. People who subsist on fish as a primary source of nutrition are not the ones demanding expensive fish species (otherwise, they can't afford it) - in fact, these are the kind of folks who manage to be creative with cheap fish like pollock. The main folks who are aghast at consuming some other species are folks who eat fish as an option or a luxury.

2. One of the reasons why certain fish are so expensive is because demand outstrips supply - fishing for them is unsustainable. Thus, the more leery people are of ordering an expensive species, the better for sustaining the stock. Fishermen go through greater lengths to procure the less available fish stock because of the perceived greater value; if the demand is lessened, they won't be pressured to do this.

3. The section about "branding" being damaged? The assumption there is that fish species is the key to consumer experience. For some fish - eel, catfish, sardine - that may be the case, but as noted, most people cannot tell what the species of fish is after it is cooked, since so many additional factors are at play: cooking method, accoutrements, prestige of restaurant, etc. And these other factors carry far more weight to the average consumer.

Fish being prepped for sushi/sashimi at Uchi, Houston, TX
Now, I have no objection per se to the efforts being made to fight fraud - after all, if one orders mako shark and gets dogfish, well, that's wrong. But have no illusions that this is an effort to protect culturally perceived relative values - with the same arbitrary standards that once held back the California wine industry from worldwide recognition, and now hold back the widespread use of Gulf seafood in sushi/sashimi restaurants.

Enforcing honesty among purveyors is a priority. But the impetus behind the fraud lies in an assignment of status that is not necessarily linked to actual flavor.

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