How Sustainable is Aqua-Culture: Symposium dives for answers

By JWU Media Relations
June 2018

Despite the rallying cry for local and sustainable seafood from sea to shining sea – the US imported more seafood in 2017 than any prior year. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees American fisheries, the US imported more than six billion pounds of seafood valued at more than $21.5 billion in 2017.

Barton Seaver, chef and author of seven books including "American Seafood: Heritage, Culture & Cookery From Sea to Shining Sea," knows that seafood matters. He says, "Seafood is part of the 'what's for dinner' conversation. It's a protein that is on par with, if not better than, land-raised animals." In June 2018, Seaver and other notable authorities of the sustainable seafood movement and award-winning chefs convened at the Providence Campus of Johnson & Wales University for "How Sustainable is Aqua-Culture." The symposium, organized by the university, the Chefs' Collaborative, and the Jacques Pépin Foundation, dove into the many facets of America's seafood scenario.

The controversy surrounding “bycatch” gets Rick Moonen, “Top Chef Masters” star and noted sustainable seafood advocate – dubbed the "Godfather of Sustainability” – riled up. Moonen, an engaging and excitable presenter, explained bycatch in simple terms to the audience of chefs, educators, students, and industry professionals. When fisheries use a dredging technique to obtain their catch, essentially dragging their equipment along the ocean floor, they reel in, inadvertently, unwanted species – mostly wild shrimp. He said as much as 90% of the world's wild shrimp is thrown away as a result of this process. “This procedure is like tearing down the forest while you're hunting for deer,” he emphasized. “It has a debilitating impact on the world’s food chain and creates an imbalance in the ocean.”

Derek Wagner '99, Providence-based chef-owner of Nicks on Broadway and co-chair, board of directors, Chefs' Collaborative, offered a poignant seafood story, sharing his early memories of growing up in Rhode Island and “quahogging” with his family. He remembers filling up laundry baskets with the catch. When he became a successful professional chef and restaurant owner, he zoned in on the importance of traceable fish. “I couldn’t get local seafood – that was legal – to serve in my restaurant. It baffled me.” Wagner's focus was so keen that, in his quest for maintaining sustainable practices, Wagner ceased doing business with a local purveyor who was unable to trace the product he was selling. Today, Wagner is one of Rhode Island’s most celebrated chefs and a leader in the local food movement.

Here are some highlights from what other speakers shared that day:

  • Anna Malek Mercer, Ph.D., executive director, Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation,: “Seafood is the last source of wild harvest protein on earth. Fishing is the seventh most regulated industry in the US. That’s more than pharmaceutical production.”
  • Jeremy Sewall, noted Boston chef and author, "The New England Kitchen": “Everyday, the ocean is my kitchen.”
  • Deborah Keane, "The Caviar Queen", founder and CEO of California Caviar Company: The biggest problem in the caviar world is who do we trust.”
  • Steve Malinowski, owner, Fishers Island Oysters: “The most tragic story is that the spawning stock is down 65% in the Atlantic. Humans make up .01% of the world’s biomass and look what we are doing to the world.”

Chef Rollie Wesen, JWU assistant professor, executive director of the Jacques Pépin Foundation and symposium organizer, reflected on the gathering. “We brought together activists and influencers from many different perspectives and enriched our community and the community with their knowledge.”

The sustainable seafood symposium is another example of how JWU is changing the way the world eats. Eating local, knowing the journey your food has followed to your table, and being mindful of resources are a few of the ways you can too.

Try some of these seafood recipes:

Scup Fish 'n Chips with Greek Yogurt Tartar Sauce

Scup Soft Tacos



Top photo, left to right: (back row) Steve Malinowski, Yancey Orr, Anna Malek Mercer, Rick Moonen, Rollie Wesen, Deborah Keane, Barton Seaver, Derek Wagner; (seated) Jake Rojas and Bun Lai

Bottom photo: Rollie Wesen

Photo credit: Ken Goodman ‘91